Savannah is on the edge of greatness. The economy is starting to take off. Jobs are coming to town, and good-paying ones too. We are at the top of everyone's list across the world. But we are shooting ourselves in the foot with gun violence. — Mayor Edna Jackson
SINCE our last issue hit stands, eight people were shot in Savannah, one dead. (Update: That number now stands at ten shot.)
The town is abuzz over the grim news, but the truth is—and I don’t say this glibly or lightly—pretty much every summer in Savannah features at least one week of crazy violence like this past one.
The carnage is, as other pundits have noted, a sadly commonplace rite of summer.
So what’s different this time?
As Mayor Jackson astutely, if indirectly, pointed out at her Monday press conference on the gun violence with other members of City Council, there now seems to be two Savannahs—in some ways on two wildly divergent paths, but in other ways similarly verging on a loss of control.
On one hand we have continuing headlines about rampant gun violence.
And on the other hand we have a spate of headlines hinting at growth-gone-wild in downtown Savannah itself:
Huge hotels getting huger, high rents on Broughton getting higher, the tree canopy eroding under the pressure, horse carriages losing their reins, tourism clearly the tail wagging the dog downtown and no one quite knowing what to do about it anymore.
To its credit, Savannah has positioned itself well for raw growth as the recession lifts. For example, Ben Carter wouldn’t have invested so heavily on Broughton had he not seen substantial upside potential for leasing and/or flipping those properties.
Hugh Acheson wouldn’t have invested in The Florence—which isn’t even downtown—had he not also seen a bright future.
As the mayor points out, that bright future is threatened by any surge in street crime, in or out of downtown. But this crossroads was visible for quite awhile to anyone who wanted to pay attention.
Some of us have warned for years that Savannah’s inability to address the crime situation would inevitably be a hindrance to meaningful economic growth.
City leaders across multiple administrations have had ample opportunity to increase public trust over the years.
Instead, we now face the spectacle of a former police chief—who resigned in the wake of a sexual harassment scandal and was fingered in a report alleging a culture of dirty cops escorting drug shipments to our streets—being federally indicted on gambling charges.
Is it any surprise that crime still holds the winning hand on Savannah streets?
Mayor Jackson says the City and Metro Police will ramp up a suite of anti-crime activities to stem the violence.
Suggestions include the usual vague, tax-funded entities like a “family resource center,” expanding “youth development programs,” and yet another police “operation,” this one called Operation Ceasefire.
There was a weak effort to pin the violence on the permissive new Georgia gun law that only went into effect a few weeks ago and only applies to citizens with gun permits—which criminals in Savannah have never made a priority to acquire in any case.
More to the point, she calls for increased cooperation between citizens and police, to fight the “snitches get stitches” mentality which has ruled the roost in Savannah neighborhoods for generations.
That’s a great idea, and not the first time we’ve heard it.
The first step, of course, and one conspicuously not mentioned in Mayor Jackson’s remarks, is making sure there’s a clean sweep of corruption in the police department, so that citizens know who they’re dealing with when they do decide to call police.
She assured those listening, “We can protect your identity.”
But in all candor—who in their right mind would trust that at this point in time?
Unfortunately, the bed we find ourselves lying in is one we made for ourselves a long time ago.
Public trust, once eroded, takes more than a press conference to restore.