Last February, after a fourth consecutive year of violence during CIAA tournament week in Charlotte, then-mayor Jennifer Roberts vowed to do something about it. Just 30 minutes before the 2017 championship game, as many as 100 shots had been fired near residential buildings on North Graham Street. Roberts, in response, said she would speak with Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority about the gunfire, then “make sure that whoever is responsible is held accountable.”
But now, with the CIAA revving up again in uptown this week, we don’t know what – if anything – the city has learned about that incident or the pattern of violence that has afflicted the annual event. We do know that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police aren’t planning any significant changes in staffing or strategy for this year’s tournament. So says Capt. Norman Garnes, who told the Observer’s Steve Harrison and the Charlotte City Council that CMPD won’t have an overbearing presence this week.
At least one thing will be different: The city has streamlined the permitting process for non-CIAA sanctioned events so that officials can have a master spreadsheet of such events to share with CMPD and the Fire Department. It’s unclear how that will affect tournament safety, however, and the city and police appear to be doing little else differently from previous years.
That may or may not be the correct decision, but Charlotteans and our tournament guests deserve to know more about what went into it.
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Thankfully, no one was hurt in last year’s gunfire, but it was the latest of several alarming incidents that began in 2014, when a man and woman were shot in the leg during an uptown hotel party featuring Sean “Diddy” Combs. A year later, one person was shot in the head and another stabbed at events for people attending the tournament, and in 2016 three men were arrested after shooting 40-50 bullets, some with an AK-47, into cars and an uptown hotel. All the incidents involved people who were uptown for the tournament or its events.
This is, certainly, a delicate issue for the city to navigate. The CIAA tournament has been a superb event for Charlotte, bringing in millions in tax collections and a splendid fan base of alumni and students. It’s unjust to point to the violence and paint the tournament or its fans with any kind of broad strokes, and city officials may be understandably reluctant to invite that negativity by announcing a beefier police strategy in 2018.
But the city instead appears to be crossing its fingers this week, and its relative silence on the matter does a disservice both to Charlotteans and to our guests who want to enjoy the tournament and its events safely. They deserve to know what the city has found in investigating four years of shootings, and how specifically the police and city have responded to that information.
Yes, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have. An event, through no apparent fault of its own, has been hit with a run of violence. But that pattern is real, and our city and police need to be more transparent about it.