Modest foot traffic moseyed down State Street at dusk, even though Schenectady’s main drag was lacking a feature event Friday.
Some ducked into restaurants, while others took in the balmy temperatures — business as usual on a fall Friday evening downtown. Lisa Zambito of Ballston Spa strolled by Proctors after finishing up work at MVP Health Care up the street and didn’t have any concerns about her safety as she walked to catch the bus home.
“I’m a woman by myself walking alone,” she explained. “And I feel safe.”
Granted, Zambito hadn’t heard about the attack that occurred about two blocks away inside the Bow Tie Cinema this summer.
Even after hearing a brief account of the gang assault of a Niskayuna man at the movies with his daughters, her opinion of the city’s safety remained the same.
In fact, Zambito said the city seems safer now than when she started working downtown a decade ago. And she believes what happened inside the theater could have transpired in just about any city.
“That could happen anywhere,” she said.
Many downtown patrons agreed — even those aware of the assault. Though some indicated they sometimes worry about walking too far away from State Street, the consensus was that the city’s business district is among its safest places.
Schenectady resident Tim Hilliard said the area around Jay Street and Proctors usually has a strong police presence that deters even most panhandlers, much less a more violent element. He acknowledged, however, that a group of teens like the ones arrested after the Bow Tie attack could materialize just about anywhere in the city.
“If you have a whole group of kids and they want to show off,” he paused. “Well, it’s a different story.”
But these groups aren’t unique to Schenectady, he continued. Nor is the type of attack perpetrated in June.
“It could happen any place,” he said. “It could happen in Beverly Hills.”
Some said the safety of the city’s downtown depends on the hour of the day and the proximity to State Street. John Falcon of Niskayuna works across the street from Bow Tie and has never worried for his safety when walking around downtown during the daytime or early evening.
“Right here, I think we’re OK,” he said with a smile, walking to dinner at Aperitivo Bistro .
Like others, Falcon lauded the improvement of State Street and said the incident won’t deter him from coming downtown or catching a movie at Bow Tie. In short, he said bad things can happen anywhere.
“Are you going to avoid every place on the news?” he asked.
The midnight attack took place at the conclusion of a late showing of “White House Down” on June 29, according to authorities. Police said a man in his 40s had tried to quiet a group of about a dozen teens earlier during the movie by snapping his fingers and was approached by them when the theater lights came back on.
At some point, investigators said the group surrounded the man and began attacking him. The man’s daughter also drew a punch when she tried to pull the group from her father.
City police believe at least eight youths were involved in the attack. The man was left with a concussion, broken bones in a hand, tooth damage and torn-up skin on his knees, according to investigators.
Police arrived within a minute of being called to the theater and took 16-year-old Dashawn Harrison into custody on first-degree gang assault and other charges. Three other teens were indicted on similar crimes this fall stemming from the attack.
Mayor Gary McCarthy said the protection in place downtown worked as they should. Moments after the attack occurred, one suspect was in custody and others were being rounded up.
“It’s unfortunate that these things happen,” he said. “But the system kicked into place and worked.”
decline in crime
McCarthy also pointed to yet another decline in serious crimes for the second year in a row. With less than three months left in 2013, he said the city has witnessed a 12.5 percent decrease in major crimes.
McCarthy also vouched for the safety of Schenectady’s downtown. He said incidents like the one at Bow Tie are far more likely at a major suburban shopping malls like Crossgates in Guilderland than in an area like State Street.
Some business owners sided with McCarthy, too. Bob Mallozzi, whose family owns Villa Italia and Johnny’s in Center City, said he’s never been concerned about crime in downtown Schenectady.
“It’s never been an issue for us since we’ve been down here,” he said.
His customers seemed to agree Friday, too. Johnny’s bustled during the early evening, with a full reservation list.
Among them was Chris Noonan of Glenville, who grabbed a table with her husband and another couple. Though aware of the Bow Tie attack, she said she wasn’t deterred from visiting downtown.
“Then again, I don’t think I’d ever go to the movies that late at night,” she said.