“Murder victim’s fiance left with lease” – story on Consumerist

15 04 2008

The Consumerist picked up a recent Madison story about the Zimmerman death.

It was reported in a lot of news outlets that Brittany Zimmerman’s fiancé, Jordan Gonnering, was going to be forced by his property management company to keep the apartment that he and his fiancée shared. That part of the story unraveled Friday, but by Monday afternoon, Wisconsin Management Company had cleared the whole bit up, maybe after doing the wrong thing, and have put out a press release (pdf).

My comment @ Consumerist:

The back story here makes me believe [Jordan] is in the right. I’m a UW student, and Zimmerman was murdered almost two weeks ago now. He would have moved out right away for CSI and such. But I suspect he would NEVER go back there. I wouldn’t. The right thing for the property management company to do is say, “We’re really sorry. You can have out of your lease now and rent one of our empty apartments. Your lease for next year is off, too.”

As a student and BS graduate, I can attest that there are a lot of crooked “property management” companies downtown who will fleece people by charging high rents and keeping security deposits. This company actually probably owns fewer than the average downtown properties relative to others. We only recently (and finally) had a Student Tenant group start up, and they were the ones threatening what would have been the first renter’s boycott in 30 years (according to our district’s Alderman). What we need is for the university to offer legal help to tenants with real problems. I believe Minnesota does so, especially after one really bad house fire.

We have one house fire death, several student rapes/assaults and two very recent, possibly related stabbing deaths in the last two years. I think we not only deserve better housing but a better crime task force… but that’s a WHOLE different story.

Zimmerman was found on April 2 stabbed to death in her apartment, and the case has been typical, as of late. It’s to the point where I’m surprised when the police find a perpetrator of a major crime, as happened with an abduction/rape on campus last year.

There’s a lot to this case that we don’t know so far, but what is known has caused enough of a ruckus. The police suspect someone described as looking “homeless”, and a lot of homeless folks in Madison are up-in-arms over the increased scrutiny and profiling that has occurred as a result. I think that, to some degree, it had to happen, since the person is likely on the move. Still, such things often lead to police overstepping their boundaries.

A man named Joel Marino was found nearly dead in an alley behind his house earlier in the winter less than a mile away. Because the investigations are in two districts, there are two separate investigations. According to some recent reports, the police are sharing tips with each other because the cases are starting to overlap. Still, there’s no official word yet as to whether they actually believe the murders are linked.

Another murder happened in nearby Fitchburg over the summer. The woman, Kelly Nolan, was young and was last seen downtown. That murder went entirely unsolved, and I’m starting to be sickened by the number of high profile crimes that police can’t seem to figure out.

Now, I understand that we don’t live in Murderapolis (God bless Minnesota), Baltimore, D.C. or Milwaukee. The number (and rate per capita) of murders, rapes, etc., is a very positive one in light of what it could be, but these crimes are happening in campus neighborhoods where we should feel reasonably safe. I don’t expect  or care for the “safety” of the suburbs, but come one, let’s keep our own safe.

I’m riled now, but I’ll have to rant more later. I need to sleep.


College students narcissists? No way…

27 02 2007

A researcher at San Diego State recently released a study on the self-centered attitudes of college students. Some interesting excerpts from the CNN.com story:

“As an example, Twenge cited a song commonly sung to the tune of ‘Frere Jacques’ in preschool: ‘I am special, I am special. Look at me.'”

Who knew?

“‘Current technology fuels the increase in narcissism,’ Twenge said. ‘By its very name, MySpace encourages attention-seeking, as does YouTube.'”

Agreed! Consider Facebook, the second most popular social networking site behind MySpace. People get truly competetive about how many friends they have and what their pictures say about themselves.

“Kari Dalane, a University of Vermont sophomore, says most of her contemporaries are politically active and not overly self-centered.
‘People are worried about themselves — but in the sense of where are they’re going to find a place in the world,’ she said. ‘People want to look their best, have a good time, but it doesn’t mean they’re not concerned about the rest of the world.'”

I both agree and disagree with this statement. People do care about their place in the world and how they can help the world, yet there are outstanding deficits in political activism and social responsibility among college students. As an example, my fraternity, of which I am now an alumnus, constantly talks about volunteerism and community service as an important aspect of what they do, yet they’re becoming increasingly focused on character and resume building for their future careers instead of on the problems that plague society or on political awareness. The one great exception that I see is Humorology which, though it has an intensely competitive face, really raises a lot of money for Camp Heartland and the Chris Farley Foundation.

As an aside to this whole deal, Todd Gitlin writes often about how our generation (am I Gen Y?) is not activist in the manner that the Vietnam protesters were activists. (In my mind, I imagine all of the University of Wisconsin’s relics of a protest era: 60’s-designed building made like fortresses, the Mifflin Street Block party and fences over some campus windows. But I digress.) Instead, we are affecting the world through our purchasing power. We buy fair trade coffee when it’s offered alongside free trade coffee, we choose to buy the red “AIDS relief” ipod instead of the others or we click a button to donate money during the holiday season while making our Amazon purchases. Some may pish-posh the idea of making a difference a few dollars at a time. I did at first, but yesterday, I saw a sign on the wall of the Espresso Royale Cafe on State Street showing pictures of all the children who have been helped directly by money from consumers. That really stuck me. If I ever find the specific article by Gitlin, I’ll put it up!

Langdon Street Safety

3 11 2006
  From the Badger Herald:

Greeks’ plan ill-advised

by Emily Friedman
Thursday, November 2, 2006

Halloween is over and, surprisingly, ended without pepper spray or riots — an achievement that students and city officials should be proud of. With that said, it is now time for Madison officials to put away their riot gear and return to the more pertinent issues facing the downtown area. Just because Halloween weekend saw a minimal amount of crime compared to years past does not mean that we are in the clear. Crime here in Madison, just as in any other city, is an issue we cannot afford to ignore.

The recent months have been plagued with violence of all types, from break-ins to robberies to sexual assaults. Just this week, a girl was sleeping on her couch when she awoke to an assailant holding a knife to her neck. And that is without even broaching the entire disaster that was Club Majestic.

Whereas most of the crimes have occurred in downtown areas that are flooded with student apartments, Langdon Street has been under particular scrutiny for poor lighting and an absence of surveillance. Following an attack on a student who lived on Langdon, several columnists, as well as The Badger Herald editorial board, urged the city to make changes and help to ensure the safety of UW students. Instead of seeking out underage drinkers at local bars, police officers should be hitting the streets on high alert for potentially dangerous situations.

Much to the surprise of doubtful students, the city responded well and there has since been a noticeable increase in the number of cops downtown, as well as a general feeling of strong police presence in the most dangerous areas. Don’t get me wrong, drinking tickets are still signed weekly, but there are unarguably more cops keeping watch on the city and students.

City officials also took part in a survey of working streetlights throughout the downtown area. Upon determining lights that were either broken, overtaken by shrubbery or just plain non-existent, they took action and brought light to many of our streets.

The city of Madison has done a good job addressing the crime problem, and although there is still work to do, Halloween did, if nothing else, remove some of the skepticism surrounding the police department.

Despite these improvements, the UW Greek system has formulated a plan to institute a neighborhood watch consisting of fraternity and sorority members. In a press release from the Madison Police Department Nov. 1, Greek members are not “asked to take on a confrontational or law enforcement role” but instead “become a highly visible presence” on the street. Greeks will begin patrolling on the evening of Nov. 3, and will continue the surveillance every Friday and Saturday night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. for the rest of the academic year. It was also noted that Greek members are the major advocates for the implementation of emergency safety light stations on Langdon.

Although the plan has good intentions, I question both the appropriateness of Greek members performing such an important job as well as the potentially dangerous repercussions of the system. A neighborhood watch program manned by college students should be a last result for a city like ours. After all, we are not paying tuition to take over the responsibilities of a police department, especially one that has been stepping up to the plate and listening to students’ concerns.

The types of violent crimes have ranged from sexual assaults of young women to the battery of young men. Many have been extremely violent and the choice of victims has proven the age-old stereotype wrong: Men can get attacked, too. Furthermore, walking in groups does not always protect students from danger, as gang violence often has no rhyme or reason. So, who is to say that assailants won’t just see the patrolling Greeks as a perfect target, rather than a deterrent?

In a deserted community with little violence, I understand the point and the effectiveness of a neighborhood watch. But it is frustrating to think that Madison residents are so out of touch with the reality of living in a city that they think they can take this situation into their own hands. By doing so, they are essentially removing much of the pressure that has helped mobilize the police force and lessen downtown crime rates.

Yes, an increase in the number of people on Langdon Street will probably make residents feel safer. But will they actually be safer? It’s doubtful. Examining the history of attacks leads me to believe that safety is not in the numbers, but in police enforcement.

Emily Friedman (efriedman@badgerherald.com) is a senior majoring in journalism and legal studies.

My Response

Dear Ms. Friedman,

It’s excellent that you praise the city of Madison for its work in making city streets even the least bit safer. I actually was unaware of much of what has happened as far as stepping up safety measures.

I’m dissappointed about your stance on the neighborhood watch program, though. To quote:

…But it is frustrating to think that Madison residents are so out of touch with the reality of living in a city that they think they can take this situation into their own hands. By doing so, they are essentially removing much of the pressure that has helped mobilize the police force and lessen downtown crime rates.

I don’t believe very many of Madison’s students are so naive as to think that this is a city without crime. My sister spent her first three weeks in Madison carrying her can of mace in a death grip everywhere she went and was sure to walk with at least one other after dark. To add to that, I’m very sure that most people know they wouldn’t be able to stop a determined criminal on their own or often even in groups.

By implementing any kind of plan, we’re not relieving the city’s sense of responsibility. If a loosely organized group of determined college students causes the city and the police force to let their guards down, God help us all. Rather, the Greek community is taking on a sense of true community. (Or many in the Greek community are, anyway. It’s sad to have a fraction of Greeks such as yourself and at least one member of my fraternity in opposition to the plan.)

For once, we’re able to put aside our competetive squabbles and work together with a sense of ownership in our community. This community includes everyone on Langdon: apartment-dwellers, co-op members and Greeks. Many of societies problems are fed by a lack of community and togetherness. I’m sure this neighboorhood plan will make the Langdon Street area safer.

A Brother’s Public Anonymous Response

Anonymous (November 2, 2006 @ 1:42pm):

This article frustrates and irritates me on a number of levels. My feelings wouldn’t be so strong, either, if I hadn’t been so sure that the Herald (and Emily in particular) would take this stance on a neighborhood watch program that can only help, not harm. Let us examine the main points of Emily’s article further.

She makes an argument that has become more popular as of late by saying that police officers should focus less on catching underage drinkers at bars and more on surveillance of downtown streets after bar-time (when most of the attacks have occurred). This is a sentiment voiced by many people I have talked to about this issue, including members of my own fraternity (which is spearheading the first patrols on Nov. 3). The thought is this: the police aren’t doing their job; we shouldn’t do it for them. This is a dangerous mentality – it is symptomatic of a general disregard for one’s own community and neighborhood that is sadly all but omnipresent in the Greek Community. Half of the fraternities cannot even take care of their own chapter houses, let alone care about the state of the street upon which they live. But to completely disregard and discount the idea for what is essentially a neighborhood watch program is short-sighted. Is the safe-walk, safe-ride, and safe-bus program then equally ineffective and worthless in combating violent crimes?

The police cannot be everywhere at all times. To quote one of my brothers: “with this plan, they are acknowledging their own shortcomings and recognizing that we are capable enough to make a difference in our community’s safety. In front of us we have a chance to help make our city safer. That protection is the job of the police is certainly true, but they don’t have a monopoly on that market…helping patrol Langdon and taking the means to discuss police priorities are not mutually exclusive.”

A neighborhood watch program cannot hurt. Why do nothing as men are beaten and mugged, women are raped and hurt, etc.? To assume, as Emily does, that a neighborhood watch program is counter-productive because it deflects responsibility off the police is over-simplistic. Honestly, I cannot imagine a meeting of Madison police officials in which they will state: “well, we’ve got the Greek system patrolling Langdon now, so we don’t have to worry about that anymore.” Of course it relieves some pressure on the department. Isn’t that the point? The police are charged with protecting and serving the populace – but to refuse to help with that responsibility is selfish. Why does a neighborhood watch program have to be a last resort? Why can responsible students not come together for the greater good and take the initiative in helping police? And I must laugh at the idea of a gang of violent criminals walking down to Langdon in order to attack a group of 25-30 Greek members. There IS strength in numbers, and the crimes that have been perpetrated on Langdon have NOT been gang crimes of 4 or more people, they have been individuals or pairs of people attacking inebriated students walking home from the bars late at night. There is a world of difference between group gang violence and a pattern of individual attacks.

And a news flash: downtown crime rates haven’t been going down. Sure, there has been an increased police presence, but incidents are still happening. Emily, if you honestly think we are out of touch with reality because we want to HELP our fellow man, then perhaps you need to turn that magnifying glass around and ask yourself why you are so quick to attack the police and the Greek system (of which you are a part) instead of taking responsibility yourself and doing what you can to help. You may think you are part of the solution by pointing fingers and bashing potential assistance plans, but you’re actually part of the problem. Don’t make the problem worse by refusing to lend your support because you selfishly assume the police aren’t doing everything they can to combat the problem.

For the record, I’ll be out there on Friday night with my brothers. I hope we won’t have to, but even if we just stop ONE drunk kid from harassing a woman, or make a potential rapist think twice about where he can hide to claim his next victim because there will be 30 men with their eyes open that night, then the program has succeeded. Why? Because it didn’t exist before. Emily, and other students, I implore you to help us combat a problem that affects and concerns us ALL, not just the police, instead of calling us names and pointing fingers.