Almost weekly, students check their Howard e-mail to open a crime alert issued by the Howard University Police Department. Most of the crimes occur at the Howard Plaza Towers, where most students attending summer school and working for housing reside over the summer.
Earlier this month, students were able to put a face to the nameless victims whose stories are recounted in the email alerts.
“I’m in my kitchen and all of a sudden, I hear someone scream. I didn’t think much of it because a lot of people sit outside of the Towers and I often hear screams. But then she screamed again, and she screamed, ‘Get off me! Help! Stop! Police!” said Erica Holmes, senior finance major.
HUSA president Bryan Smart
Holmes resides in the Howard Plaza Towers East in a corner room that has a clear view of the parking lot, which has become the scene of many crimes.
“I rushed to my window to see if everything was okay, and I actually see the guy attack her. He was on top of her and she was on the ground. He was pulling at her bag. At this point, there was no one around,” Holmes said.
Aminata Sow, senior finance major, resides in the Howard Plaza Towers West, which is located beside the East Towers. She too was able to witness the horror of that night while in her friend’s room, also in the West Towers.
“We heard the screams but did not think anything of it until they became deafening. We looked out of the window to see this guy on top of a girl pulling her bag so we call 911,” Sow said. “While I was still on the phone, we run downstairs in what was maybe five minutes after we see the crime. At that time, campus police was just then turning the corner.”
According to Sow, the amount of time that it took HUPD to arrive to the scene was “too long” for an emergency situation. She said that it should have not happened as it did; someone should have been there to help that girl.
Chief Leroy K. James of HUPD was unresponsive to e-mails from The Hilltop regarding this matter and the influx of crimes.
Holmes said that while she too was looking for her phone to call 911, she saw Howard men, who were sitting outside of The Towers, run after the attacker to the female victim’s aid.
The men were not the only ones to take action. Sow decided to try to resolve the safety issues at The Towers by writing a letter to the Provost and President.
The letter stated, “I am writing this letter today, to not only make sure that Howard faculty, staff and students are well aware of the situation, but to also report the fact that the scene of the crime took place in a poorly lit area behind the Towers. I am well aware that Howard University does not own the West Towers parking lot anymore; yet the fact that the lights in that parking lot do not come on at night is unsafe for Howard University students… To make matters worse, I am well aware that Howard University does not own the West Towers parking lot anymore; yet the fact that the lights in that parking lot do not come on at night is unsafe for Howard University students… To make matters worse, I have never seen campus police patrol the dim area.”
According to Howard University Student Association President Bryan Smart, they have had several meetings with James to try to make solutions. One of the solutions was to lock the gates to the West Towers so that students may no longer walk through the poorly lit area.
Smart said that since Howard sold the parking lot in an exchange for land to build the Howard University Town Center, this lock may be the only option.
However, on Sunday, July 26, two students were robbed while exiting their vehicle in the East Towers parking lot, according to a crime alert.
Another solution presented atthe meetings was to have an HUPD officer patrol the area at night. Sow said that she has seen an HUPD vehicle parked by the parking lot, but the vehicle is usually not occupied by an officer. Smart reported seeing an officer when he went to check.
Sow ended her letter with, “I thank you for your time and await your response.”
Jessica Lewis writes for The Hilltop, the Howard University student newspaper, which originally published this article.