Tessa’s death is a tragedy, one that has shaken our University in ways we are only beginning to understand. With heavy hearts, we extend our deepest condolences to Tessa’s family and friends. Words fail to capture the spectrum of emotion felt across campus, and this is a loss we will all continue to endure for years to come.
In our mourning, we maintain one concern: We want justice for Tessa and all parties affected by this devastating incident.
We have seen, however, how the search for justice can be corrupted, such as in the 1989 case of the Central Park Five, wherein the media, politicians, and the police played sizable roles in the false conviction of five children by sensationalizing their alleged actions in an attempt to find a swift resolution.
We understand the two cases are distinct, both in context and in nature. But as Tessa’s case is examined by the media and our political leaders, it is imperative that its narrative and our grief are not similarly leveraged to catalyze a retributive response rather than a fair criminal process. We cannot further segregate the safety of Columbia students from that of the rest of our community.
Citing the need to protect Barnard and Columbia students, Mayor Bill de Blasio mandated an immediate increase in New York Police Department officers in West Harlem. In response, Community Board 9, the local advisory group representing Morningside Heights and the surrounding neighborhoods, cautioned against the unfair treatment and harassment of youth during the search for suspects and ongoing police investigation. One day later, when a suspect had been identified, community leaders voiced concerns that due process may again be overlooked. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer raised questions around the quick confession of the 13-year-old suspect without the presence of legal counsel.
Higher crime rates in Morningside Park and reports of youth crime perennially impact all West Harlem residents. CB9 says it has tried to tackle youth crime and violence alongside community groups amid local distrust of the NYPD, though such organizations have cited a lack of funding and attention relative to policing efforts from the city. As such, honoring Tessa’s memory demands that we consider much more than just student safety and police presence. Columbia has tried to form barriers between its students and local crime but must acknowledge its ability to affect the supply of housing, jobs, and education in the surrounding community—resources that can help address issues at the root of violent crimes.
We fear that these issues will continue to be obscured by media coverage and in the conversations of lawmakers, the University, and the public in their immediate push for action in their concern for the safety of Barnard and Columbia students.
An unjust investigation and oversimplified narrative regarding Tessa’s death would dishonor her memory. Only through careful consideration and action can we respect Tessa’s legacy and begin to heal.
The authors are members of Spectator’s 144th Editorial Board. News Editor Valeria Escobar and Managing Editor of The Eye Eve Washington recused themselves from this editorial due to their sections’ coverage of the issue.
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