Stabbings, a bare-breasted woman and crime

Friday, May 13, 2011

Residents of neighborhoods adjacent to Southeast Missouri State University are concerned -- and justifiably so -- about what they see as a surge in crime.

In recent weeks there has been a shooting and a stabbing, both near the Lutheran campus-ministry chapel on North Pacific Street, where a meeting of worried residents was held last week to talk about the problem.

These troubled residents aren't simply complaining. They have done some research and have found ordinances adopted by other cities that facilitate more vigorous policing. What will become of these suggestions remains to be seen, but they deserve both serious consideration and timely feedback to the growing number of neighbors who fear the worst.

I know a little bit about these concerns. I live in a neighborhood adjacent to the university campus. A few months ago our neighbor's house across the street was burglarized. A few nights later someone tried to break into our house through a kitchen window -- while we were in the house. Two juveniles were apprehended based on DNA and fingerprint evidence left on the window glass.

This shouldn't happen in my neighborhood.

When I heard, after the fact, that there were enough worried residents to have a community meeting, it hit me that I pass the Lutheran chapel every morning when it is still dark. On my daily four-mile walks, I have a regular route that takes advantage of certain parking lots and alleys to avoid climbing the same hill twice. This includes the alley behind the chapel, where on occasion I have been startled by young men who, as it turns out, were not targeting me.

Until Tuesday morning. The very day after hearing about the escalating crime and growing concern in quiet neighborhoods where everyone should feel safe, I was on my walk past the campus on Henderson Avenue. It was about 5:30 in the morning and still dark. A southbound scooter and rider came past me, slowed down and turned into a university parking lot. The scooter circled by me again and pulled into Cheney Drive next to Cheney Hall. The rider positioned the scooter on the sidewalk ahead of me with its bright headlight shining in my eyes.

I thought about turning back. I thought about making a dash for a house across the street, whose occupants I know. I decided to press on. If this person was out to get me, I really didn't have many options.

As I came even with the scooter's headlight, I turned to the rider and said, "Good morning." I have this theory that criminals are at least momentarily stymied by a friendly greeting. "Good morning," came the response from a female voice. "Want to feel these?" My eyes, blinded by the headlight, now saw that she was exposing her breasts. I walked on, hoping the scooter didn't follow me as I headed for the sidewalk that takes me across campus. The scooter and driver disappeared down Henderson.

This shouldn't happen in my neighborhood.

It shouldn't happen in any neighborhood.

In addition to concerns that crime seems to be increasing in areas long considered "safe," there is another worry. As people talk about this situation, they refer to "them" migrating from the city's south side. They fret about claims that "they" are moving to Cape Girardeau because aggressive Sikeston policing is forcing "them" out. We hear that "they" are moving to Cape Girardeau from Cairo, which is so impoverished that it can no longer support its criminal element.

We all know who "them" and "they" are. But this is not a race issue. This is a crime issue. Every city neighborhood deserves to be safe, even the ones where "they" live.

What does it take to restore a feeling that we are safe on Cape Girardeau's streets, day or night? I don't have the answer, but I'm pleased to see residents and city officials discussing the matter and looking for ways to make things better.

Longtime Cape Girardeau residents recall when doors were seldom locked and windows were always open, particularly during hot months. Prudent folks know we are unlikely to return to those days.

But any of us ought to be able to take an early morning walk without worrying about being shot, stabbed or solicited by a prostitute.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: