Content warning: This article contains mentions of gun violence and sexual, verbal and physical assault.
Crime rates are increasing exponentially in and around Chapel Hill. Verbal threats, sexual harassment and instances of physical assault are commonplace — and these acts of violence aren’t far from campus.
In what feels like the epicenter of student life, Franklin Street is becoming less and less of a safe space for students and residents alike.
Half of all gun deaths in Chapel Hill happen within a mile of campus. Five homicides have taken place this year in Chapel Hill and physical assault — including an incident of stabbing — has left many residents injured, while verbal assault and harassment wreak their own havoc, yet often go unreported.
Instances of sexual harassment on Franklin Street are a prevalent issue that can lead to even more serious consequences. Catcalling is an almost daily occurrence for female-presenting individuals, further deteriorating any sense of safety.
A severe lack of accountability — including more than one instance of sexual harassment and public indecency perpetrators quickly released after being arrested — has left students feeling unprotected, disappointed and disillusioned with the efforts of Chapel Hill police. Keith Gaskins, a man charged with indecent exposure in downtown Chapel Hill, was released within one day of arrest. Tucker Frey, charged with attempted kidnapping and assault, has been harassing women on Franklin Street and around UNC’s campus since August 2020.
Instead of diminishing their needs, protecting students and residents of Chapel Hill needs to become a priority of the CHPD. However, the answer to stopping unsafe conditions on Franklin Street doesn’t simply lie with empowering police. Bolstering social resources, including local initiatives to aid the unhoused population and address mental health problems, are the necessary foundation that we need to make a lasting and thorough change in Chapel Hill.
Research shows that nonprofit community organizations directly correlate to a reduction in homicide and violent crime rates in cities. Whereas increasing law enforcement presence has a limited effect on decreasing crime, addressing social issues such as inadequate affordable housing is proven to cause lasting change.
Not only would such initiatives reduce the circumstances that may lead a perpetrator to assault someone, but they would do so by addressing the root of the problem. The goal is preventing crimes before they happen — not remediating after the damage is done. It seems as if CHPD only serves to do the latter.
Franklin Street has experienced a cultural shift alongside a decrease in safety. Instead of sitting on benches with friends while waiting for the bus, students have grown accustomed to seeking shelter inside local businesses to avoid harassment. Students, especially those of marginalized identities, fear for their safety while walking or taking the bus to class or work. Residents face the risk of harassment and physical violence while walking to get groceries.
UNC cannot be safe if Franklin Street isn’t. It is time to seriously address these safety concerns before even more are harmed.
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