IF ANYONE thought Savannah’s growing and collective sense of panic about crime would calm down after an election in which voters opted for sweeping change, they were right.
For about two or three days.
The hysteria reached a new fever pitch this past weekend after eight people were shot in several incidents, possibly the bloodiest single weekend in local memory.
It’s something of a minor Christmas miracle no one was killed.
The temptation to freak out about all this violence, as many are doing, is understandable. A certain amount of angry passion will be necessary to focus political and public will to address the problem.
But now more than ever it’s important to keep a cool head.
Four victims were wounded in a single incident about 2 a.m. early Saturday. It began with shots fired inside Club Rain, which is ironically almost directly across from City Hall on Bay Street.
Like a scene from a Bourne movie, the action extended into the Whitaker Street Garage, where another gun battle erupted and the four were shot. One alleged shooter was arrested, with another still at large.
Bars and restaurants in the area had to shut down early because of the massive police presence and fear that the gun battle might continue to metastasize.
People weren’t allowed to drive their cars out of the garage until hours later.
So to recap: Not only were four people shot in a single incident—which is tragic and concerning enough—but downtown’s economy was severely impacted at the same time.
One gunshot victim this weekend was a 12-year-old boy, shot in a Southside apartment in what appears to be an attempted home invasion or attempted retaliation.
Two of the other gunshot victims this weekend were 16-year-old boys, involved in an altercation at Frazier Homes.
Another gunshot victim in another incident was a 34-year-old man—ancient by the standards of Savannah street crime, where so many young men are either dead or in prison by the time they’re old enough to buy a beer.
That man, Rahmine Ashley, had recently gotten out of prison after serving a five-year plea deal for attempting to run over two police officers in 2006 while fleeing capture.
Ashley did end up in custody a few months after trying to run over the officers, when he was shot by a rival in the Waffle House parking lot on Abercorn.
In all, Ashley has been arrested at least 24 times in his life, beginning when he was 16—the same age as the boys shot this weekend in Frazier Homes.
This is the cancer of multi-generational crime, exacerbated by easy access to guns, encouraged by what many see as a revolving-door justice system, and fed a steady diet of poverty and its attendant side dishes of hopelessness and frustration.
A police officer recently told me that many of today’s teenagers caught up in Savannah’s crime-to-prison factory literally don’t know how to fistfight, as previous generations of young men learned.
Guns are so easy to get, and so often seen as the only way to settle a dispute, that an entire generation of young men have grown up only knowing how to rack a slide and pull a trigger, rather than throw a proper punch.
But while guns are clearly part of the issue, they are just as clearly not the entire issue.
More immediate and granular local steps will have to be taken, such as a closer scrutiny of alcohol licenses of repeatedly problematic clubs, continuing to staff up the police department, and revisiting the so-called Ambassador Program for downtown’s increasingly chaotic and dangerous entertainment zone.
As I write this, however, tempers are running high and anyone displaying less than a full-on panic attack about crime is seen as cruel and heartless.
With the election in the rearview mirror, there’s no go-to scapegoat, no easy vector for citizens’ frustration and anger.
The old administration will be history in less than a month. The new administration will face the same problems and likely make more than a few missteps of its own.
In the meantime, life must go on. Business must go on. We really have no choice.
It would be wrong to normalize this kind of violence. But panic, as always, is perhaps our worst enemy.