Friday, September 15, 2006

On Fiery Furniture

I've been thinking some about fan behavior, given the couch-burning after the Texas game, as well as the generally great treatment our fans received in Austin. In short, I've come to the conclusion that Ohio State has problems with fan behavior that, while overblown somewhat, still need to be dealt with. I have an idea about improving how fans of the opposing team are treated, and I will discuss that in the near future. Now, though, I want to talk about the supposed collection of arsonists that make up the OSU student body.

I've heard a few explanations for the couch and dumpster fires that have been set off. One of the arguments that can be dismissed immediately is that it isn't OSU students, since they aren't in town. That's not the case. Nobody's in the dorms, that's true. But that's only about a quarter of the undergraduate student body. Lots of students leave town for home or an internship. But just as many stay in town and work or take classes. I'd estimate that there are around 20,000 students still in Columbus. So while those fires weren't set exclusively by OSU students, I think it's safe to say that most of them were our doing.

I've also heard it said that it's not a big deal. I initially agreed. It's just a couch in the street or a dumpster in an alley; what's it matter? No, it's not real classy, but who am I to tell people how to have fun? For example, my neighbors set fire to a couch in the middle of the street, ten or twenty feet away from anything that was flammable. What's the harm?

The harm isn't the couch fire itself, generally. Occasionally a car or house will be damaged by a fire that gets out of control, but that's not the real problem. As I see it, the real problem is all the other, real emergencies going on at the same time. Every time the police have to spot a fire, they aren't able to deal with any actual crimes. Every minute a fire truck spends putting out a dumpster fire is a minute not spent on the way to a house fire. So yes, these need to be dealt with. But how?

Well, there's making it a felony to burn couches and dumpsters, as the firefighters have proposed. It's overkill, but it would probably be effective. I don't really think it's right that burning a loveseat is placed on the same level as assault, but it seems like such a simple way to solve the problem, which is what's needed, since getting to the root of the problem is much more difficult.

The real issue is, I think, that students need to be convinced to take pride in their community, and that's a difficult thing to make happen. The single biggest issue with that is that this isn't a college town; it's a city, and much of the student housing (and most of the fires) borders on some pretty bad neighborhoods. People that take pride in their neighborhood aren't going to set fires in it, but why take pride in a neighborhood where the side of your house got tagged with graffiti and someone just broke your car window and stole your CD player? There is, to some degree, a sense of, "Well, the police don't care about the crime, the landlords don't care about the houses, the city doesn't care about the streets and sidewalks, and the university doesn't care about the students as anything other than a source of income, why should I care about the neighborhood, when I'm out of here at the end of the year?"

Fixing this attitude would not be easy. First of all, most of the above isn't true. The police, city, landlords, and university do, in fact, care; this I know (well, except for the landlords). They need to do a better job of showing they're on the students' side. The police too often have a relationship with students that borders on adversarial; they break up our parties and arrest us for stepping onto the sidewalk with beers, but don't care when we get robbed, or so the argument goes. The police and the city in general need to find a way to work with students. The university would get off to a good start simply by not raising tuition for a year or two. The landlords, well, there's not a lot they can do. They basically assume that students are constantly destroying their properties, and we often are, and we think landlords are only trying to rip us off, and they often are.

In short, students need to feel like they are part of something worth improving and maintaining. Throwing arsonists in jail isn't a bad thing. I encourage it, in fact. That might solve the problem of dumpster fires, but if the city and university really want to make a difference, they need to work with students. Students shouldn't feel like the police are only waiting to arrest them; they should feel like they're on the same side as the cops. Students shouldn't feel like cash machines for the university; they should feel like the university takes as much pride in the student body as the student body takes in the university. Both of these things are true already: the police are on the same side as the students, and the university does want to help its students. And I don't mean to suggest that the students don't know this; most of us do. It's pretty easy to forget that, though, and that's a problem. But with effort from everyone, the city, the police, the university, and especially the students, I think there can be a real change in how the students look at their community, and I think that would solve problems beyond the burning couches issue.

Of course, if it doesn't work, they can just lock 'em all up and take away their beer. That's also effective.


Jason Dashland said...

Well put. For an arsonist.

And Happy Birthday.

shroud said...

Occasionally a car or house will be damaged by a fire that gets out of control, but that's not the real problem.

This is a pretty quick dismissal of possible property damage - especially given that students don't have a lot of spare cashflow and sometimes don't have renter's insurance. A friend of mine's house just east of High burnt down about 8 years ago thanks to a couch fire, and they lost everything... The risk of significant property damage, or someone actually getting hurt in a fire, while maybe not as COMMON as the opportunity cost for emergency responders, is a higher impact in my mind.

I think the *easiest* (though not necessarily the cheapest or best) fix is to just ensure police visibility and more frequent patrols on high risk nights. I don't particularly enjoy living in a police state, but given the alcohol-fueled bravado and lowered common sense, the pessimist in me doesn't see any other good fixes.

Sean said...

Good point, Shroud. The point I'd intended to get across is that if I set a couch on fire in my front yard, and it spreads to my car or house, then I'm getting punished for my own stupidity. As far as I'm concerned, idiotic drunks that want to destroy their own property and risk their own safety should have the right to do so.

But I did pretty much ignore the possibility of harm to others, and there's no good reason why, except that I got in a hurry to finish the post. You hope that the people setting fires at least have the sense to do so in a safe (relatively speaking) location, but that's unrealistic.

Which is why I agree with you that a more significant police presence is probably the solution that makes the most sense. Regardless of how many bleeding-heart liberal, let's hold hands and unleash the power of love ideas I come up with, there are still going to be people out there doing stupid things and putting others at risk, and the only thing to do with those people is to lock them up before they do something stupid (or at least anything else stupid).