Friday, January 18, 2008

An Essay on Safety and Exercising Judgment in the Face of Judgment

I went to college in one of the safest cities in America--Irvine, CA. Low crime rates. Good crime stats at the college too, and there were plenty of blue safety lights and night walking programs. But there was a big park in the middle (Aldrich Park) that I would never want to walk through unescorted at night, just because it was so dark. It was better to walk the long perimeter, or "Ring Road," than to cross the park sometimes. All the parking structures were on the periphery of our oval campus, and so I would get campus safety escorts to walk me or drive me to the parking lots if I stayed till after dark.

I went to law school in a big city with a good-sized murder rate, but in the bourgiest side of the city. And yet, in my 1L year, there was a mugging right near the law school, and so they advised us to "be careful." I lived right across the street from the law school, albeit in a zig-zag fashion since the law school's main entrance was inside campus and my building was on the other side of the peripheral street. And yet, I rarely walked home at night. I would always study late with a buddy. I would always get walked at least until the main streetlight, when everything was brightly lit.

Oddly, the neighborhood was safer than the campus. We are talking McMansion rich, with all of these private security services cars parked every block. I would take night walks all the time in the rich neighborhood behind my house, but not on campus. The campus was known for its poorly maintained, if fun to run, 5+ mile perimeter, also known (at least at night, along certain stretches) as "the rape trail." The perimeter was poorly lit, and full of bushes which predators would sometimes hide in wait.

So, I was careful. I didn't run the perimeter at night. If I studied I walked friends to their cars in the nearest parking structure, a walk as long as the walk to my house, and they would drive me back home.

So when did I become so stupid?

My campus now is quite woody and dark, and so there's plenty of places that could hide a predator. The campus crime statistics are no better or worse than my previous school's. And for the life of me, I don't notice or remember where the emergency blue light phones (that alert police) are located, and there is no easily accessible map on the campus website.

I remember, in college, campaigns for more blue lights and for publicized maps. I remember, in college and law school, being more vigilant about calling campus safety escorts or taking night shuttles, or walking with a friend, even just at 7 or 8 pm.

Today I left the library around 11:15 pm, and decided to walk home instead of waiting for the bus. Maybe this was stupid and unsafe. Or maybe I've been trained to be excessively paranoid.

There will always be an alert sent to all the students about some mugging or attempted rape, and for about a month or so everyone will be really careful. And then they will lapse back into normal routines of "Ehhh, waiting for the bus/escort/shuttle takes so long, by the time they get here I could be home, so I may as well walk and be a moving target instead of a still one."

There's also that element of "what are you so afraid of"-- sometimes people, even "womenfolk" are derided for their excessive paranoia. It is said that we have been conditioned to see danger in darkness and every corner, needlessly. After all, most rapes are acquaintence rapes. After all, this campus is relatively safe--just look at the statistics! After all, this is a "nice" neighborhood or "safe city."

I don't know what to think, other than that that's all bunk. Men walking alone are just as likely to be mugged, so it's not as much a gender thing as it is a safety in numbers thing. Unfortunately, I tend to go it alone most of the time, being a loner like that. So I know what I should be doing. I shouldn't be so dumb, I shouldn't think of myself as too impatient, tough, or cavalier to be safe. There's a lot of "well if it's my time, it's my time" in young person justification of dumb fuck behavior, like driving without seatbelts or biking without helmets. Is it ever your time to get raped? Is it ever your time to be the one in the stastistics, however small, of being mugged or assaulted or killed? Probably not.

I always do this. I always act irrationally and irresponsibly, I always hear the voices of my parents and girl friends in my head as soon as I arrive home safely, and I always write yet another essay on how you should probably play it safe, even if it seems cumbersome and inefficient to do so, and even if there are some who will say "pshaw" at your "excessive" safety measures.

I've been selling things on Craigslist that I don't use anymore to raise money for things that I suddenly need, and there's guy who wants to pick up some large thing from my house. My roommate will be moved out by tomorrow, and in the past we've always been at home at the same time for such things, to make sure that anyone who comes to our house or knows our address isn't coming to just one, easier to defeat, girl. Strength in numbers, man. I've asked Jurisprudential Boy of Wonder to come over and keep me company, just for the half hour, to make sure I'm safe. Is this paranoid? Maybe. But maybe it's also just good sense.

In any case, even though I'm moving from one nice neighborhood (where we had someone mess with our door! and where cars have been broken into!) to a secure building in another nice neighborhood (albeit in a city where the murder rate went up last year) and taking the bus to and from home to school (again, always a block or two away from the door though, so another thing to consider), I'll try to play it safer in the future. I used to carry mini flashlights with me. I thought of carrying pepperspray or those mini fog horn things. In general, unless it's attached to your key chain and in your hand, it doesn't do you much good.

Any tips on how I can walk more safely from one point to another, say a bus stop to the door 3 blocks away?