I have lived on Georgia Street in Buffalo's West Village for six years. When I moved here, leaving the relative security of the 14222 ZIP code for the first time, my friends expressed concern about my personal safety.
I suppose I have been lucky. While the past six years have certainly not been without incident, I never have found myself directly in harm's way. I have always noticed a strong police presence and have been impressed by the quick response times from B District officers. I have benefited from a dedicated neighborhood association with a proven track record for mobilizing to improve public safety.
Don't get me wrong, unpleasant episodes have occurred. Here's a sampling: an unconscious man in our driveway, stolen plants from my garden, used condoms in the driveway, constant horn-honking, riotous 4 a.m. drunken revelry, endless police visits to the building next door, unrelenting piles of litter, discarded drug paraphernalia and blatant drug traffic.
That said, I have never seen anything that made me feel personally imperiled. But lately, I have felt uneasy, if not downright frightened. Tuesday night was the tipping point.
Just before 9 p.m., I climbed into bed and was anticipating the signature opening sound of NBC's "Law & Order." Little did I know, across the street a very real crime scene was already unfolding.
I heard a single gunshot. It sounded far away, compared to other gunshots I have heard lately. I mean, as far as gunshots go, it wasn't the kind that makes me get low to the ground and move away from my windows. My cats sat up in attention. I fumbled for my cell phone, then hesitated. How many times have I made a 911 call about gunshots in the past year? More gunshots followed quickly. These were close, more precise sounds. Cats scurried under the bed. I ran away from my window. These gunshots were too close.
Sirens came from every direction. I saw a man holding his right shoulder and a police officer kneeling over a body. It was eerily quiet, despite dozens of emergency vehicles rushing to the scene.
One officer was directing the ambulances; others were putting a man in a white T-shirt into a police car; another was roping off the crime scene; and others loaded bodies into ambulances.
My street remained a crime scene for the next few hours. I knew it was over when I watched the firefighters hosing the blood off the snowy sidewalk. I couldn't help but think about how I had walked over the same section of sidewalk just hours before the shooting.
You know the rest of the story from Tuesday night. A young man named Varner Harris was arrested and charged in the shootings of two Buffalo police officers, Patricia Parete and Carl Andolina.
According to some news reports, Harris was angry about something that had happened in school, and got a gun. How is it that an angry teenager can find a way to possess a gun so easily?
How is it that I have become accustomed to hearing regular gunfire in my neighborhood?
Buffalo owes it to the police offers shot in the West Village last night to do a better job. Buffalo owes it to Paul McCabe, stabbed to death near his Bedford Avenue home over his cell phone in August. Buffalo owes it to countless other victims of violence.
How much worse does it have to get?
Joanna Gillespie, of Buffalo, is alarmed by the escalating violence in her neighborhood.