by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Albany, New York isn’t just the seat of a clown car state government– it’s also a college town. And college students, when boozed to the gills, can out-bozo politicians. (Well, almost.) On March 12th crowds of drunken students rioted in the Albany neighborhood known as the student ghetto. The lads and lassies, most of whom seemed to be from UAlbany (a major campus of the State University of New York aka SUNY), had prepped for the city’s St. Patrick’s Day parade with hours of bar crawls and Kegs and Eggs house parties. Eventually the breakfast bunch spewed out onto the frosty streets.
The Albany Student Press claims that the Albany police, in an effort to tamp down the annual festival of collegiate binge drinking, had rousted the house parties. Pushing participants outdoors where “frat boys and sorority chicks”* joined them in solidarity. The non-student press hasn’t mentioned any rousts. Whatever. Hundreds of students milled in the streets, wearing neon green tees and bellowing like cattle on jimsonweed. Smaller groups commenced to trash. Cars were pushed into the street and smashed. Appliances were hurled from balconies. Cans and bottles flew. Several cops were tackled. Most (though not all) in the crowd laughed to see such sport. Their cellphones captured the riot. YouTube took it viral. Suddenly, all eyes were on Albany’s student ghetto.
Albany pols and college officials freaked. Were they riled by the riot– or the nationwide publicity?
Callow binge drinkers have been stampeding in the student ghetto for years. And not just during the daze of St. Pat’s. A brief search of YouTube turns up numerous vids of students from UAlbany and the College of St. Rose (a private university adjacent to the student ghetto) making merry on many occasions. Heck– I lived on the edge of the student ghetto in 2000/2001 and can personally attest that every weekend, except for ones during breaks and vacations, was a holiday in the hood. Or should I say– a party in its mouth? The sidewalks were a mosaic of greasy pizza boxes, crushed beer cups, broken bottles, and vom. In winter the mosaic froze over, spring brought the big patty melt.
Walking through the student ghetto was an eyeball assault. Its once-beautiful two and three family homes were sinking into the sludge. Absentee landlords and young lugs living la vida transient don’t do upkeep. A virtual tour of the homes’ interiors can now be had on YouTube. Footage of semiconscious or completely zonked students being owned by their roomies is a staple on Student Ghetto, The Reality Show. If you look past the limp bodies in funny degrading poses, you can see the subdivided warrens, rats’ nest wiring, and broken windows covered with trash bags.
Code enforcement? What code enforcement?
I used to wonder if parents actually visited their kids’ digs. And what they thought if they did. After all, parents frequently pay for those digs. Some even send rent directly to the landlords. I also wondered if parents understood the intensity– and heavy underage aspect– of the student ghetto bar scene. It gave me quite a turn to see really young girls staggering out of bars blitzed blind and dumb. Particularly since the neighborhood is also a crime scene.
Muggings, assaults, and burglary shadow the student ghetto. Students are perceived as easy pickings; predators from other ghettos come to partake. In the autumn of 2008, a UAlbany senior was shot to death a few blocks from where I once lived. Drug trade? It’s like, historic. One street has an evil rep going back decades. From my window I watched deals going down on the corner of said street. The longevity of its rep made me cynical (wrongly, I’m sure) about notifying the Albany police. Instead I called the county cops and hoped for the best.
But back to Kegs and Eggs. Some 40 students were arrested. A few days after the riot YouTube footage was being used to identify more participants. Pictures taken from videos were released to the press. (Many of the alleged perps seemed in dire need of Clearasil.) Detective James Miller, official spokesman for the Albany Police Department, promised swift and certain justice.
On March 16th, a New York Daily News editorial blasted SUNY Albany for being known for “hard partying” rather than quality education. The editorial also denounced the “moms and dads” of the rioters, for contributing to a “culture you let sprout into criminal proceedings”. The next day, the first of the UAlbany students seen in the video pictures turned himself in. OMG! His father turned out to be Bob Sapio, senior executive editor of the New York Daily News. Was Dad’s face red!
Also red faced: Detective James Miller, official spokesman for the Albany Police Department. On March 18th Detective Miller (now on suspension) was arrested for allegedly driving drunk. In an official vehicle, while off duty. Miller apparently refused to take a breathalyser test. DWI cases can be more difficult to prosecute sans results from breath tests. In some cities, police officers aren’t allowed to refuse breathalysers. But Albany has its own way of doing things.
For instance, despite much local coverage of the Kegs and Eggs riot, plus related articles about housing conditions in the student ghetto, the neighborhood’s worst landlords have yet to be outed by the news media. And given the lack of code enforcement (a problem in more nabes than just the student ghetto) you’d expect some investigative reporting on who hearts who– politically speaking.
Another Albany oddity: the in-office longevity of Mayor Jerry Jennings. When Jennings ran for his first term in 1993 yes 1993 he waxed reformer about the student ghetto and vowed change. He renews those vows regularly. Particularly when public funding can be accessed via the vowing.
In April 2005, Mayor Jennings took an after dark walking tour of the student ghetto, accompanied by the late Kermit L. Hall, then president of SUNY at Albany. The town and gown twosome dialogued with students hanging in front of bars and tut-tutted over slum conditions. President Hall vowed to help rid the neighborhood of drugs, violence, and blight. Some $400,000 in government grants was set to flow through the New York State Division Of Criminal Justice into a “historic partnership”** between SUNY Albany and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC– as part of the crime fighting initiative Operation Impact. The Albany police were eventually outfitted with cool tech tools via Operation Impact. Department officials say crime in Albany is being fought more successfully thanks to those tools. Folks in and around the student ghetto aren’t convinced.
Operation Impact is one of many initiatives that over the years, have been accessed by Mayor Jerry Jennings and a string of area college officials in efforts to re-imagine the student ghetto. Yet somehow, the neighborhood remains a place where impressionable young oafs and oafettes pick up the perception that civilization is far far away.
But change may finally be in the wind. City officials are now making a concentrated effort to refer to the student ghetto as the Education District…
*Assigning blame for Kegs N Eggs melee, Albany Student Press, 03/26/11
**Governor Pataki Announces Historic Partnership with UAlbany and John Jay College to Develop Enhanced Crime Fighting Initiatives Impact, Office of the Governor Press Release, 04/04/05