Four years of tournaments. Four weeks marred by violent incidents. One annual college basketball event.
It seems obvious to connect the dots between the CIAA men’s and women’s basketball tournament and a rash of violence in uptown Charlotte. So let’s go ahead and do so:
In 2014, during tournament week, a man and a woman were shot in the leg during an uptown hotel party featuring Sean “Diddy” Combs. In 2015, one person was shot in the head and another was stabbed at separate uptown events for people attending the tournament.
The next year brought a startlingly frightening incident: Three men arrested after they shot 40-50 bullets, some from an AK-47, into cars and an uptown hotel on the last night of the tournament.
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Now, something even more alarming: Early Saturday night – just 30 minutes before the CIAA men’s championship game – as many as 100 shots were reportedly fired near residential buildings on North Caldwell Street. Reports on several national lifestyle websites said a rapper, Young Dolph, was the target of at least some of the gunfire. Incredibly, and thankfully, no one was hurt.
Four years. Four weeks of violence. One event. That’s where the simplicity ends and questions begin about Charlotte’s relationship with the historically black conference. Should the city stop hosting the tournament? Is revenue from the CIAA worth risking safety? Those questions are necessary but complicated. City leaders should navigate them carefully.
The CIAA has been a fine partner with the city and county, bringing in millions in tax collections each year. Walk around during the tournament, and you’ll see not only students, but thousands of middle-aged and older alumni enjoying themselves safely. It’s unfair to cite violence and paint the tournament or its fans with any kind of broad strokes.
That’s why Mayor Jennifer Roberts and City Council member Kenny Smith treaded cautiously when asked about Saturday’s gunfire. Roberts told Observer reporter Steve Harrison that it was too soon to think about the tournament’s future. Smith said he didn’t want to make “knee-jerk reactions” following Saturday’s gunfire.
They’re right. Alarming as the violence is, abandoning the tournament now would send the wrong message about the tournament, its fans and Charlotte.
Roberts is taking a better approach. The mayor said she plans to speak with CMPD Chief Kerr Putney and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority to get more information about Saturday’s gunfire and “make sure that whoever is responsible is held accountable.”
We hope and expect she does even more. Roberts should seek a full CMPD investigation not only of this year’s gunfire but the pattern of violence during CIAA week. The public deserves a thorough accounting of what happened, if and how the incidents are connected to the CIAA, and what measures the police and city will take to prevent future violence.
There’s a danger in making too big of a deal over Saturday’s and prior incidents. But they are a big deal, and the city must treat address them – and transparently – before a trend becomes a tragedy.