August was a violent month in New Haven. Police responded to four homicides and five other shootings within a three-week period. In addition, there was a steady amount of theft, disruption and gang-related violence. Altogether, August marked one of the roughest months for New Haven crime since October 2009.
The Yale student body’s view of New Haven crime is limited to a policy of haphazardly listening to the advice Chief Ronnell Higgins sends in his sporadic emails. The Yale administration has authored plenty of literature on student safety, sending the message that law-breaking in the Elm City is an unfortunate reality. This perspective perpetuates a false view of two New Havens: one where we live and one where residents live. Those of us living behind walls on campus put urban crime on the back burner and fail to realize that it may be closer to us than we think. But the recent escalation of crime in New Haven sheds light on a more ominous problem.
In 2012, George William Domhoff, a professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, published a study arguing that Yale University “contributed to the basic problems caused by deindustrialization” in the latter half of the 20th century. He cited the University’s endowment of over $15 billion dollars (now over $20 billion) that goes untaxed. Meanwhile, President Levin renovated 54 buildings and commissioned an additional 16 projects.
In 2002, New Haven Public Schools, grossly underfunded, requested that Yale donate a sum of $5 million, the amount of interest earned on its endowment in one day. The administration gave no response. One year later, in an opinion piece for the News, Peter Dobkin Hall, a professor of history at Baruch College, pointed to Yale and other Elm City tax-exempt institutions as the reason for 21st -century urban economic turmoil.
Woodbridge Hall argues that its presence in New Haven helps the city financially — including in the form of money local businesses earn from Yale students. In the 1980s, this may have been valid, but now, national chains have replaced most local businesses on Broadway Avenue and other commercial hotspots.
Meanwhile, the quality of life outside the Yale bubble has atrophied. In 2011, plans were finalized for the construction of a new School of Management building on Whitney Avenue. Less than a mile away, police responded to the scene of the 29th murder of the year in the East Rock neighborhood. An article in the News (“East Rock sees city’s 29th murder,” Oct. 31, 2011) pointed out that many Yale-affiliated employees lived in neighborhoods of violence, including Dixwell, West Hills and Wooster Square.
The year 2011 proved to be the roughest in New Haven since 1994, with 34 homicides. Two murders outside Toad’s Place and a car chase down Elm Street prompted the Yale administration to strengthen on-campus security. Ceaseless gunshots on the streets of New Haven left residents just as frightened.
In the past decade, New Haven has witnessed 1,300 non-fatal shootings. Adolescents perpetrated many of these incidents with illegally possessed automatic weapons. Recently, the combination of crime and income disparity brought about a perfect storm for foreclosures. In the Fair Haven neighborhood, the city recorded an astonishing 16 foreclosures per block. Foreclosed homes have become breeding grounds for illicit substance transactions, squatters and gang violence.
Although the two have been intertwined since their colonial roots, the city has evolved to be far more than a backdrop for the University. The Elm City’s affairs, marginal or hefty, should be priorities for the administration too. As the city’s top employer, Yale cannot simply close its doors to the outside. We need safe students and safe citizens. August’s grim statistics should serve as a grave reminder that restoring a sound New Haven is paramount for all who live here. Until then, we, as students, walk these streets cautiously.
Nathan Steinberg is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.