Saturday, September 27, 2014

Be safe

The city's on high alert again. If you live far from campus like me, you probably don't notice until you get off the bus to see men in safety vests escorting groups of young women. When they saw me rolling up they asked me if I needed help getting anywhere and advised me to "be safe". Three police cars on separate occasions pulled up to see if I was fine. There are cards, notices and signs all around reminding students not to walk alone at night and what numbers to call in case of emergency. The night buses added one extra run to make sure everybody gets home safely. Three female students fought off  rape outside of campus in the last few weeks, with another one attacked in a way that's not matching the other incidents. You can tell the atmosphere is getting to people. I feel it and I'm only there once a week. I have always considered Gainesville to be a safe city. There's quite a few driving accidents and things get stolen, but nothing quite like this. It's about the only place in the world that I'm  not scared going shopping in the middle of the night. My outlook hasn't really changed over the years although eight years ago I was held at gunpoint at a Subway restaurant when I decided to go for a snack. Still, I'm more concerned with getting hit by a car as I cross the street than I am with getting attacked by someone. What adds to the panic, I think is the atrocity of the act coupled with randomness, Months ago, another story grabbed the headlines. Young student, an average guy, disappeared without a trace. Posters with his picture and byline "Have you seen me" popped up across town and really spoke everyone's imagination. Yes, it was horrible that it has happened to anyone, but given that he was just like anybody else and it seemed like it could have happened to anyone as well . It all contributed to this uneasy feeling we've all had looking at his picture. He was last seen in areas most students go to every night, heck I used to go there when I was younger. As tragic as it was I think we were in some way relieved when his room mate was charged with his murder. The motive- one of the oldest in the book, jealousy over a girl. The story was no longer a mystery, the disappearance was no longer random and Gainesville was safe again. It wasn't the first time it recovered from a gruesome dark story. Over twenty years ago a man nicknamed the Gainesville ripper had locals in fear as he broke into people's houses and murdered eight people. Those who remember that year hear tell me that you could have sensed the fear in the streets. That it affected everyone, young and old, male and female students and resident. But thankfully the reason why we can  reflect on those years is because nothing comparable has happened since and the story becomes more of an urban legend that students tell each other by the camp fire. Today we're reminded of safety again. Everyone has an opinion. A bus driver told me he believed that the guy would never be caught. With all those patrols he will never try again- he noticed. But then the campus has always felt like the safest place in the city. Well lit, calm and quiet with plenty of security  and cars going much slower because of the stricter speed limits. And yet, when something happens  it forces us to reevaluate how we feel about our own city, about our own safety. Well, you could say that in places like New York, Chicago or even Jacksonville things like that happen everyday. But they don't happen here. For now, the driver sends me on my way with "Be safe". Until we can all feel safe again.

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