The physical damage that a handful of rowdy teens inflicted last June when they assaulted a middle-aged suburban dad and his two teen daughters at Schenectady’s Bow Tie Cinema was serious enough to warrant felony assault charges. The psychological toll the incident may have caused the city’s downtown commercial district could be even more lasting. Thus the plea bargains requiring at least a year in jail or state prison that three of the four teens accepted last week, seem fitting, if not a bit severe for youthful offenders.
Indeed, the four teens who were at least 16 when the incident took place could have been given as much as 25 years if convicted of the first-degree felony assault and gang assault they were originally charged with. That surely would have been excessive for their crime, which was to beat up a middle-aged man who had the temerity to snap his fingers at them when they were making noise in the theater.
The victim, whose name was never made public, reportedly sustained a concussion, broken hand, chipped teeth and abrasions, but the seriousness of those injuries won’t be fully known until the one teen who rejected the plea goes to trial. His lawyer is, in fact, contesting the severity of the injuries, which prosecutors used to justify the felony charges.
The incident, which theater, city and Metroplex officials hushed up until the teens were indicted three months afterward, seemed to confirm what doubters of Schenectady’s downtown — mostly suburbanites — have been saying for years: that it wasn’t safe for people like them. And though the crime statistics indicate this was an isolated incident, it still did considerable damage to the commercial district’s reputation.
Repairing it will take time, continued presence by police and other security forces and strong judicial responses when incidents do occur. If there is a perception among people who live outside Schenectady that its downtown isn’t safe, then the best movies, theaters and restaurants won’t be enough to bring them down there.