"Where there is no vision, the people perish." - Cornel West It is evident that crime against students has replaced strained race relations as the primary concern of many at the University. Several members of the University community this year have been particularly vocal in complaining about crime against students. Understandably, students are upset that they have to worry about being victimized in what they believe to be the potentially violent neighborhood of West Philadelphia. The President and the Provost have reason for concern because they need to keep the University an attractive commodity to its present and prospective students. However, University response to crime has been, by and large, localized to the student body and characterized by loud voices and silent feet. The time for complaining is past. As a University community, we must support our demands for a safer living environment with action. Rather than act, students have been content to become prisoners of our GPA's and social lives and to leave many problems to the administration to solve. If we are going to complain about either the dangers of West Philadelphia or about being falsely regarded as a contributor to these dangers, then we need to do everything in our power to prevent this victimization. One might ask what we, as busy college students, can do to protect ourselves. The first step each of us needs to take is to compare the roots of our behavior and criminal behavior. Examine your reasons for coming to college. Essentially, in order to be content, one needs to become educated and receive a degree (or degrees) in order to be employed. The goal of the criminal is the same -- to achieve a state of contentment. In some situations, the definition of well-being can be significantly different than what we might think. Criminals in West Philadelphia may believe that their contentment is only contigent upon their survival. They might feel there is no way out and they are driven by numerous factors to a feeling of desperation. This supposed hopelessness they feel does not necessarily justify sympathy because there are avenues to improvement. Criminal elements exist as a result of problems on a grander scale. Family instability, media influence, and the lack of bonding between black men has, according to noted scholar Cornel West, turned our urban neighborhoods into a social Darwinist culture that wastes no time in eliminating those "unfit" for survival. By matriculating or accepting employment at this University, we have chosen to place ourselves in the middle of this social Darwinist neighborhood that we complain so fervently about. We must not, as West said in his speech here in earlier this month, look upon the rest of the West Philadelphia community as an "undifferentiated blob", as a group of people whose individuality had been destroyed by our preconceptions. We must not let ourselves be content with simply "problematizing" the entire neighborhood. These are people we are complaining about. One might respond to this by saying, "Yeah, well, some of these people create a legitimate danger to students." This is difficult to dispute, but we need to ask ourselves if we want to cope with the danger or if we want to work to eliminate the danger. If we simply want to "deal with crime against students," we need to try something new because that is what we have been doing. The shooting incidents this summer are just two examples of how well we are "coping" with crime. When will the University community realize that crime is not a force to be bargained with? There is nothing so strong as a person's sheer will to get what he or she wants by any means necessary. I mean this in regard to crime, but also to our power to change our situation. If we simply get off our collective ass and get moving, we, with the help of concerned residents and local police, can cut the criminal jugular in West Philadelphia. "What can I do?" you might ask. In regard to the drug problem (which can contribute to robberies, muggings and the like), one suggestion that I have is to join forces with South of Market Against Drugs (SOMAD). Journey down to the police mini-station at the corner of 44th and Walnut. Simply ask them what you can do. I recently went on an anti-drug march with friends and just one experience can show you that you can make a difference. They might have suggestions as to other things that you can do. There are many programs on and off campus that are trying to make a difference in the area of crime. They just need more willing minds and able bodies to strengthen their efforts. We as a University community cannot be content to complain about crime against students without considering crime as a whole in our neighborhood. No permanent good will be done if our focus is only on crimes against students because crime spreads like a cancer -- it eventually seeks to claim all that it can. There is nothing as strong as a person's needs and wants and their desire to see them fulfilled. University policies and bureaucracy certainly can't do anything to stop them. (Justifying over $180,000 of University funds as a legitimate expense for an inaugural celebration rather than using it to hire more police officers doesn't exactly help either.) When we allow ourselves to sink into our own sense of hopelessness, we truly kill all hope. I am "a prisoner of hope," as Dr. West stated in his speech. We need more hopeful people at this place. For from hope grow dreams, and from dreams, we can make reality. For if we do not cut the stream of pestilence entering our society at the source, we might soon drown. Jamil Smith is a College sophomore from Cleveland, Ohio. He is a former DP columnist.Comments powered by Disqus
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