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East Side was once safe, wonderful community

Donn Esmonde's recent column, "Tour of city shows people who need help," set off a memory tour for me. His tour was a walk on the wild side. My tour was a walk on the East Side, when sanity and safety prevailed.

I grew up in the Genesee/Moselle area. Our home was on French Street, and all of the neighborhood kids attended either School 62 or Saint Matthew's Catholic School. We walked to classes and came home for lunch.

Every family knew you by sight, so you had best behave. If you smoked a cigarette, picked a fight or vandalized someone's property, your mom would know before you even walked in the door.

Fortunately, this same scrutiny kept you safe. I always knew that I could run up to any house in the neighborhood if I was hurt or felt threatened. Now the kids are bused here, there and everywhere, with no sense of community.

As a teenager, my glide path extended up to Genesee Street where my friends and I hung out. We especially liked the pizzeria, which was near the old Genesee Theater. It was fun to spread my wings and get out from under parental restraints. But we couldn't deal drugs or harass elderly people. Why? Because there were frequent police patrols in the neighborhood. The cops hustled us along, off the street corners.

"What are you kids doing out here?" they would ask sternly.

"Just getting pizza," we'd reply.

"Then go inside and eat or go home."

It was a simple as that, and with no claim to infringement of our rights, no sass and no guns, we went home. We took our time, even imitating those "lousy cops," but home we went.

Sometimes, we went to the theater instead. It showed great movies, with very little violence. We had the Legion of Decency rules, and ID was checked for what would now be rated PG-13.

I remember walking up French Street, turning onto Moselle Street, passing Box Avenue and onto Frankfurt Street to visit my future husband. I was only 13, and often walked over late at night, or he walked to see me. Neither of us ever felt threatened, we usually stopped and talked to neighbors out on their porches. We would usually see a police car at some point. If I was alone, the car would stop along side of me.

"Where are you going?" the officer would ask, polite, caring.

"I'm just going home, over on French Street."

"You shouldn't be walking alone at night. Hustle it up, OK?"

Neighborhood watch and adequate police coverage made my walks and visits wonderful memories; now these police patrols are monitored for "brutality." The neighborhoods themselves have become brutal. Walking the streets at night is dangerous.

What makes my memory tour so different from Esmonde's walking tour is the presence of police. It's a shame the police rolls got decreased with every budget cut. I have to wonder what today's East Side would be like if it had adequate, consistent police patrols. Buffalo's police officers are trying, I think, to do the best with what they've got. While their numbers were being reduced, the gangs -- along with their weapons -- increased.

The gang problem is out of control, the parochial schools are closing by the score, the public schools are ethnically mixed but have no actual neighborhood identification and police coverage is woefully inadequate.

My memory tour is hazy and reminiscent of "Leave It To Beaver." Esmonde's walking tour is real and sad.

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