Augusta's black eye

City must push ideas that create a safer downtown

It was a horrific crime.

And make no mistake. A lot of people are horrified.

If it’s any consolation to the couple who were attacked, robbed and brutally injured with a metal object late Friday on Augusta’s Riverwalk, your plight has not gone unnoticed. Augusta is praying for your full recovery.

Both of them received several facial fractures and head wounds, he a fractured skull and broken hand as well, when two unsatisfied muggers took a metal baseball bat or club to their heads.

The truth is, Augusta’s image and confidence were also fractured in the incident.

You can say what you want about it being an isolated incident late at night. Frequency doesn’t matter a whit, when someone is savagely attacked thusly. Residents and, in this case, guests from across the river have every right to expect to be safe at Augusta’s biggest tourist attraction.

If all bets are off at night, and the Riverwalk simply becomes unsafe at 11 p.m., then close it and post signs to that effect.

Then, after posting the signs, walk away in shame.

This shocking crime will only confirm many people’s dim view of downtown Augusta – even as a video of an earlier wild brawl on Broad Street makes the rounds on the Internet.

The Chronicle interviewed business people and visitors near the river Monday. All said that caution must be taken there at night, and that there was very little police presence on the Riverwalk.

“It’s nice during the day, but I wouldn’t go down there at night,” one restaurant owner said. “It’s not well-lit. It’s not patrolled by police that I’ve ever seen.”

One Riverwalk visitor told our reporters that she’d lived in Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York – but that two of the three times she’s been robbed have been in downtown Augusta.

Can you say “wake-up call”?

If city leaders, both public and private, don’t want that image to stick or be reinforced – or if they just want Friday’s attack not to happen again – then they will stir to action.

Indeed, the Downtown Development Authority was to meet with sheriff’s officials today.

The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office needs to put at least as much high-profile effort into curbing violent crime as they have traffic infractions of late.

But this goes way beyond the law enforcement community. Any crime diminishes a community, but one so repugnant and frightful as this makes it more difficult for the Chamber of Commerce, the Convention and Visitors Bureau, the school system, the mayor’s office and more. Shouldn’t they all collaborate on a response?

It’s not enough to wring our hands and shake our heads over this depravity. This cries out for action.

One friend mentioned to us that vibrant downtowns in South Carolina’s Greenville and Charleston – while they certainly host the occasional criminal act – don’t seem to have a reputation for being unsafe. Quite the opposite. Why is that? How have they managed that? Curfews? Crackdowns? What can we learn from them? And what’s so different in Augusta, that it does feel different?

Is it merely a matter of lighting? Lack of security personnel? Lack of crowds? Lack of businesses?

It’s time for some honest, and maybe painful, self-examination.

This is not about blaming anyone other than the perpetrators, who ought to spend the bulk of the rest of their lives in prison when apprehended. It’s about creating the conditions for safety.

And hoping that the perception of safety follows.

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Mon, 03/27/2017 - 21:46

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