These days I rarely walk from my home on the West Campus to Del Playa Drive on weekend nights; perhaps only two or three times so far this year. When I do, someone yells “Aren’t you a bit old” or “Street person” at me. After all, I’m in my 40s.
When I’ve been out this year, however, there have been a more disturbing experiences: I come across fights. Someone bumps into somebody else, gives somebody else the wrong look or makes a provocative remark. In a few moments two guys are swinging or on the ground wrestling. The friends of the fighters, to their credit, have stopped the fights that I have observed. The fighters have been pulled apart, and although they continued to shout threats, they stopped swinging.
Not all fights end like that, though, and innocent people can’t always stay clear of harm.
A month ago, Santa Barbara City College student Brad Jones died tragically, even though he was trying to avoid a fight.
I could easily have been Brad. So could just about anyone who walks around late on weekends in I.V.
The sort of violence that has led to Brad’s tragic passing is too frequent in Isla Vista. The weekly I.V. Foot Patrol report usually describes about five instances of violent crime.
Last weekend the I.V. Foot Patrol noted three altercations, all on DP. On the 6600 block, there was a fight that escalated until a cocked and loaded gun was pointed at someone’s head. On the 6500 block, a fighter spat blood on a foot patrol officer. Another fight led to a lost tooth.
Last year, one of my students got in a fight in I.V. The damage to his nose and eye sockets resulted in months of reconstructive surgery. Recently, the son of an acquaintance of mine fought on a Friday night. His absence from a Sunday dinner prompted his parents to locate him in his I.V. apartment, alive but still unconscious from the concussion he suffered two nights earlier.
Each year UCSB publishes the Clery Report, with statistics that show that I.V.’s crime rate is about four or five times higher than the rest of the county. Some say this crime rate is on par for 20 year olds. I don’t agree, because I.V. residents are among the smartest 20 year olds in California.
I don’t know why street violence is so bad in Isla Vista, nor how to effectively address it.
Is it alcohol? Some suggest a ban on I.V. alcohol sales; that was the case until 1974.
Is it lack of street lighting?
Is it just too much partying going on? Some suggest a tighter noise ordinance, and tight regulation of parties with alcohol.
Is it geometry? Do the long, dark streets of I.V. provide cover for antisocial behavior?
Is it gangs?
Has popular culture hyper-glorified violence?
Are the foot patrol there when you need them?
I’m not advocating particular answers; what I’d like most is to get feedback from I.V. residents like you.
I’ll be looking for it in the town hall meeting, organized by your fellow students in the Associated Students Commission on Public Safety.The town hall meeting will start at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 13 at the University Religious Center at 777 Camino Pescadero. Quite a few university, county and city college folks will be there too, ranging from foot patrol officers and paramedics to vice chancellors and county supervisors. The most important participants will be you, students and residents of Isla Vista. People in positions of power need your guidance and insight to make changes that actually work.
Brad Jones’ death is an alarm bell. Let’s reduce violence in Isla Vista.
Harry Nelson is a physics professor.