By Leah S. Dunaief
The year is rapidly coming to a close, and it is leaving us with impassioned thoughts. At this time, probably more than any other in the year, we pray for peace: “on earth peace, good will toward men.” Never in the history of the world were people more united than in this wish. And yet, we are so far from the reality.
Tessa Majors, only 18 years old and on the threshold of adult life, bright with promise, is stabbed to death in Morningside Park in Upper Manhattan. A Barnard College freshman from Virginia, an out-of-towner, was in the park after dark, although it was only 7 o’clock on a Wednesday evening, Dec. 11. Ostensibly the cause was a robbery gone bad. Her death is a personal tragedy for her family, her friends, the neighborhood, the Barnard and Columbia communities and all New York City. I know. I’m a Barnard alumna and my roots are in New York. The murder tugs at my heart. I lived on the Columbia campus for two years, only a short block from the park. One thing I understood: Don’t go into the park at night.
So I have lots of thoughts, lots of questions. Why was she there? Was she not told that simple fact? At the first assembly of my entering class, the president of the college cautioned us about safety in the neighborhood, warned us where to walk and how to be safe. That was a different time, I acknowledge, over a half-century ago, when the city was a more dangerous place. But dark places in any city can be dangerous anywhere in the world. The president was trying to teach us urban smarts. Are the new students still getting that important message on many college campuses? New Haven is not any different, neither is the University of Chicago and wherever there are universities adjacent to neighborhoods that are prone to crime.
“As of Dec.8, there had been 20 robberies inside Morningside Park or on its perimeter this year, compared to seven in the same period last year,” wrote The New York Times. The article continued, “Since June, five people reported being robbed on or near the staircase at 116th Street and Morningside Drive, near the spot where Ms. Majors was killed.”
Why, then, was the park not better patrolled by the New York City Police Department? That’s what compiling those statistics is for, yes? To send help where help is most needed? This is an issue the NYPD will have to deal with in coming days.
The other metropolitan area tragedy at the top of the news at the moment is the slaughter of four innocent people in Jersey City Dec. 10 by, according to reports, a couple of heavily armed drifters. While those investigating the murders are not saying much while they work on the case, there seems little doubt that this was a hate crime directed specifically against both the police and one segment of the population: Jews. Why do people hate? Particularly why do they hate strangers, people they don’t even know? It’s a question as puzzling as why people would ever want to kill each other. For bigotry to be so strong as to result in violence is unfathomable. For that matter, why conclude that just because people are different, they should therefore be despised? In fact, they might be thought of as more interesting for their differences.
Which brings me back to my original thought. If everyone is praying for peace, why is there war? Why is there violence? Why is there bigotry? Why is peace so elusive? Is peace, real peace, impossible because of the makeup of humans? Will there always be a Hitler and a Stalin, a Napoleon, Vikings and an Attila the Hun?
Still, let us pray for peace, however hard to imagine. Let us keep this idea alive before us as a goal someday to be realized. Let us work to make our world less violent, less filled with hate, less bigoted. Maybe the operative word is “less?” That we surely can do.