SACKS: It’s still that bad

On Oct. 24, The New York Times travel section featured an article by Freda Moon entitled, “36 Hours in New Haven, Conn.” Moon cited the most profound problem facing New Haven as the “complex and layered” tension between “barbecue shacks … and stylish cocktail lounges,” in a city which she described as marred only by a distant, forgotten memory of crime and crack in the ’80s and ’90s. As members of the community and young medical professionals living in New Haven, we feel that this description fails to represent the reality of our city.

This is a place where our friend, a physician trainee at Yale-New Haven Hospital who, like all of us, works long and often grueling hours in a profession dedicated to serving this city and the surrounding community, was assaulted by a group of adolescents. They struck him in the head with a rock that broke his jaw and knocked out his front teeth. This horrifying incident took place shortly after Moon’s article appeared to dismiss violent crime as a current element of New Haven life. And yet the same night, two other Yale-New Haven Hospital residents were separately attacked by a group of adolescents. One was knocked down in the street, and can only recall feeling his face against the concrete sidewalk and hearing, “Don’t hit him again, you might kill him.” This is also a place where an elderly female physician who has lived in this community for decades was nearly strangled to death in her own backyard, suffering serious head injuries. This a city where one senior physician has intervened in an attempted sexual assault at 5 p.m. on a crowded downtown street. As citizens who live and work in New Haven, we’ve had enough.

Violence occurs in other Ivy League towns. New York, Philadelphia, and Providence certainly witness their share of town-gown tensions. However, looking at statistics, it is clear that New Haven is in a league of its own. New Haven shamefully carries the FBI’s fourth-highest rate of assault in the U.S. in 2010. Living here, we sense constant tension and unsettlement between Yale and our neighboring communities.

It is time for us to come together to discuss what is happening in New Haven. When our friend requested that the police notify the Yale community about the violence committed against him, he was informed that the event took place beyond the “Yale police zone.” His assault took place in the quiet, residential neighborhood of Wooster Square, a 10-minute walk from Yale’s campus and populated by Yale-affiliated graduate students, physicians and other young professionals. Except for an email from one of the residency administrators, the events would have gone unreported to the hospital staff.

If understanding violence in our community is limited to the “Yale police zone,” then we do not completely understand the city we live in or the poverty of our neighbors, and we perpetuate the deep historical tensions that characterize the relationship between Yale and the New Haven community.

Our proposition is that as a university, we begin to make an effort to become engaged in the greater community we live in. Meetings between community leaders and Yale administrators already take place, yet very few students or employees are involved in the process, understand what takes place, or have a chance to hear what is said. We feel that it is time that Yale begins to facilitate participation in these meetings from Yale students and employees, so that we can all gain understanding of what is happening in our community. It is time for New Haven to come together and to have an honest discussion about the factors that continue to lead to devastating violence and crime.

Elisabeth Sacks is a resident at the Yale-New Haven Hospital. Krisda Chaiyachati and Theodore Long ’06, also residents, contributed writing. 

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