How much crime and decay should we tolerate?

The night the cops raided the apartment below us, we no longer felt safe here.

My girlfriend’s apartment building is in a city neighborhood that not too long ago was relatively peaceful and stable. But that has eroded in recent years, and the signs that this is a “transitional” neighborhood are not subtle.

Shootings, armed robberies, assaults at all hours of the day and night. Not on a regular basis, but often enough to be unsettling. All just a few streets from us.

We look out the window and see trash strewn on lawns, including ours. There’s often broken glass in our parking lot. We frequently have to put up with noisy, inconsiderate neighbors.

Most weeks, we take care of all the trash and recycling because few tenants think to take it to the curb on pickup day. If we don’t, it just sits next to the building and attracts squirrels and skunks, probably worse.

We’ve tried to be “part of the solution.” My girlfriend has routinely picked up other people’s trash in the yard, and has tried to have the landlord address quality-of-life issues. We were told after the police raid in January that the source of the problem would be dealt with. That hasn’t happened.

Three residents, single women who lived alone, have moved out in the past six months.

There’s just a sense of hopelessness around here, despite the positive signs we do see — immigrant families walking together dressed in the traditional clothes of their homeland, kids tossing a baseball or playing basketball (albeit at a house boarded up with plywood).

The apartment is convenient to our workplaces, but we’re planning a permanent change in venue — out to the ‘burbs, where I have a modest house that’s basically an empty nest with my sons grown and gone.

Last weekend, with that in mind, we did some work at my house.

On Saturday afternoon, we heard tires screeching at the corner — a common sound at the apartment, but not at the house. We looked out to see a man striding down the street, this way and that, trying to ignore the driver of a Jeep who was following him and trying to get his attention.

It looked like a typical “verbal domestic.” The man wouldn’t even look at the driver, who continued to follow him up and down the street. We didn’t hear anything further as they disappeared from view.

Maybe I’m jaded by what I see out the apartment window in the city, but I didn’t think the incident warranted a call to 911.

That may have been a mistake. A larger error, however, would be to assume that escaping to suburbia brings with it an immunity from the troubles that plague the city.

No matter where you go, people are having trouble. They’re hurting. Those pains manifest themselves in different ways, depending on genetics, maturity, coping skills, home life, educational opportunities and other factors.

I don’t like giving up on the city neighborhood, because that’s admitting defeat to the hopelessness that surrounds us. But I have to be realistic. We’re trying to balance our personal safety with our faith in others to be decent human beings.

It’s a shame, but I think I know what the smart move is here.

(Note: I awoke this morning to give this post a final edit, but first checked a local website for the news. There was another shooting last night, two blocks away. Two people were taken to the hospital. The beat goes on.)


About Jim McKeever

Writer, father, runner, advocate based in Central New York.
This entry was posted in crime, family, hunger, Irish Investigations, poverty and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to How much crime and decay should we tolerate?

  1. ksbeth says:

    i’m sorry, jim. this must be really disheartening to say the least on many levels. important that you both stay safe (as much as you can cross your fingers and hope so), and, while things happen everywhere, at least it sounds as though your odds of safety are a bit higher at your house.


  2. Jim McKeever says:

    Thanks, Beth … It’s discouraging indeed. There’s such unrealized potential here, but we’re kind of always waiting for the next bad thing to happen. It usually doesn’t take too long.


  3. markbialczak says:

    I can relate, two miles further to the east, Jim. It’s a never-ending dilemma for those of us who wish to stay in the city. Sirens heard, every night.

    Last night, a commotion, in front of the usually sedate apartment building across our street. Two cars worth of people, arguing. Pushing and shoving. Throwing punches.

    A call to the police, who said somebody else already had phoned it in. It took almost 10 minutes before three cars rolled up, and one of the participating vehicles had already squealed away.

    We worried about the two houses that flank that apartment building, both of which are the forever family homes of women living by themselves.

    I hate this. I was pondering a post just now, and then, up popped yours. Thank you again, sir. There is so much good about my little spot in Syracuse. But the but felt much bigger for about 30 minutes last night.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thanks, Mark … it’s frustrating beyond belief. Yet when I left for work this morning, I saw a man picking up trash on an empty lot at the corner. He might own that lot, or maybe he’s just a community-minded neighbor. It’s not all bad, but it’s just brutal some days. I hope the two women you refer to are OK. It sucks to feel trapped in your own home.


  4. markbialczak says:

    Reblogged this on markbialczak and commented:
    My friend Jim addresses an issue that worries many in Syracuse.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. LAMarcom says:

    You are correct: the decay is the symptom of people hurting and struggling and the more and more mythical ‘American Dream’.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Susan Cole says:

    My mother is from Poland? Did you know that? As a child, she was taken from Warsaw to one of Hitler’s camps in Germany with her parents and older brother, when the war ended and they were released they came here. Syracuse by way of Ellis Island. I remember the neighborhood on Otisco Street they grew up in very well, it was my Babci’s house when I was little. They had a vegetable garden in the yard, and a garden for flowers. Neighbors chatted over the fences and sat on their porches. When I was seven or so, I could walk my blind grandfather to the McDonald’s on Geddes Street so I could get an ice cream cone. There was no concern for my safety, or my grandfather’s for that matter. He may not have had his sight, but all the neighbors did and we would be just fine.
    The neighborhood changed quickly. I was too young to understand, but in 1988 a neighbor was attacked in her home and robbed. We moved my grandparents into a nice little ranch near my parents’ farm. I drove through the old neighborhood last spring and it broke my heart. I remembered those houses being homes that reflected pride in ownership, now they are run down apartments that likely have absentee landlords. There’s garbage in the street and a general feeling of despair. No one was smiling. Especially not me.
    I don’t know how to change it. I think if anyone knew, then we would just do it, wouldn’t we? I feel your pain, Jim.


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Susan … I did not know that about your family’s history. My mom grew up on Shonnard Street (and taught first grade at Seymour School), and my dad was raised on South State Street. So I know of what you speak. It is heart-breaking and you’re right about not seeing any smiling faces. Most people I see look pissed off, or at least like they’re trying to look tough, hard, mean, whatever. I can’t imagine what the recently resettled refugees think of our city, especially those who have escaped war, starvation, etc. I think it’s too easy to point fingers and assign blame (maybe that’s what I’m doing) rather than look inward and shape up. But I also think, for many reasons, a lot of folks just don’t have the capacity to do that. They’ve grown up amid the despair you and I see, and they don’t know any different.


  7. I’m an urbanite too. I hear sirens a lot. Bad things happen just blocks away. My street is quiet for the most part and for whatever reason, I feel safe here, it’s my home. Go figure. 🙂


  8. jmgramza says:

    My niece recently got discharged after a 20-month stay at Hutchings to an apartment house in the same city neighborhood that has supervision and she can have her own place. I am both very happy for her and a little worried about her proximity to an element that could threaten her safety, both physically and mentally if they were to offer her their products. She tells me she makes sure she is in for the night by 8:30 p.m. so as to avoid any dangers. This is a wonderful neighborhood at the tipping point of becoming a bad one. What can be done to turn it around while that’s still possible?


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Janet, I think part of the solution is to hold absentee landlords accountable so that they keep their properties not just up to code, but in good condition inside and out. If there are bad tenants, evict them. There are many well-kept homes literally next door to multi-unit buildings that are not well-kept. And yes, we’ve seen “transactions” on occasion. I would hope the responsible homeowners enlist the help of elected officials at all levels.


  9. Sandra says:

    Unfortunately your well-written words ring true for so many hardworking families who take pride in whatever space they can call home. It’s everywhere. We are leaving our 1st home for a number of reasons but this is at the top of the list for us too. Don’t feel guilty for making the right choice for your own safety.


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, Sandra … it’s not so much guilt, but frustration with the situation. It doesn’t have to be this way, and shouldn’t. But that’s the reality of it for now. Best of luck to you on your move as well! Jim


  10. Jim, I feel your pain. It is disheartening on so many levels. We live in a small town that years ago was idyllic and adorable. Now it is the top five counties of the COUNTRY for drug abuse. The crime is horrible. But we can’t give up. Though we have to stay safe. Conundrum.


    • Jim McKeever says:

      Agreed, Colleen. And the day that post ran, a friend who has seen progress in the past few years near the city business he owns left me this message: he was driving near there and saw a man on the street beating up a woman. He called 911. He was distraught about it. It’s just awful.


      • I know. And how do we stop it. I know, without a doubt, that the majority of our towns developing issues, is drugs. The actual crime of selling/using drugs. The crimes committed to get money to pay for drugs. The decline of the physicality of homes due to drugs. The strain on the elderly providing for family who are not able/willing/sober to provide for themselves. The strain on the economy to help those who are no longer, or at a point in their lives, when they cannot provide for or help themselves. The list goes on. And with this…is the huge decline in behavior. It’s heart breaking and scary as hell.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. chmjr2 says:

    First thing I want to make clear is that I place no blame on your moving. But every time a good citizen moves out of the city the problem gets a little worse. I lived in Syracuse for about 20 years and owned a home there for about 15 years. My wife and I use to talk about how when a friend or a good neighbor moved out the area got a little worse. I do not know what we would have done if we had stayed in the area. We moved to the Utica area 14 years ago because of a job. It seems to me the solution starts at the top with the city government. Codes should be enforced, police should help bring quality of life to the streets. Trash, loud noise, traffic laws enforced, and being seen on the streets can make a big difference. Oh well I guess I just gave my two cents worth.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jim McKeever says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Charles … I agree that the solution should start at the top with responsible civic leaders. If the city streets and neighborhoods look and feel neglected, and codes aren’t enforced, then it just deteriorates from there. Landlords will slack off, and residents and business owners will lower their standards as well. I was new to that particular neighborhood, but I can’t imagine what it must be like for the decades-long residents who take pride in their homes and neighborhood, and watch things crumble every which way they look.


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