Dramatic defiance

Augustans seem poised to take back their streets this First Friday

No one was killed in the shooting of six after downtown Augusta’s First Friday celebration July 6.

But the monthly festival itself was nearly left for dead.

There were calls to end it, while some wanted it moved to a weekend day, for safety’s sake.

Yet, only three weeks later, this Friday’s installment is showing all the signs of a huge comeback.

The good guys may be about to take back the night.

Rather than giving up or fleeing, the community is responding to the shooting with what looks to be an increased presence downtown this Friday, with added musical and family attractions at the Augusta Common and the Jessye Norman Amphitheater on the river.

The Common (826 Reynolds) will play host to a free family-friendly concert, a petting zoo and inflatables (starting at 5 p.m.), as well as food and drinks for purchase. The concert on the river (at 8 p.m.) will cost $12. Craft beer and food will be available there for purchase.

If it seems as if Augusta is about to make a statement, it appears that’s the case.

“The community made it clear in forums, letters and comments that First Friday should continue,” says Brenda Durant, executive director of the Greater Augusta Arts Council, which coordinates First Friday along with downtown merchants. “Yes, (increased) action is a decision to move forward. A group decided to program a family friendly event on the Common, followed by a concert at the amphitheater. This, along with activities on the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Broad will make a great First Friday.

“I think downtown will have a great energy in August with lots of options for a great night.”

It’s a beautiful and profound thing that may be happening in this town this week. There’s a certain magnificent defiance in the human spirit. When put to use for a good cause – such as defending a safe and civil society – that defiance becomes a work of art.

That’s the spirit.

It’s also the right thing to do, particularly for our downtown merchants, who put their hearts and souls into their businesses.

“They depend on First Friday to stay in business,” Durant says. “I received a letter from a restaurant owner who stated she pays her rent from First Friday business. Even business owners who don’t feel they have a positive impact from the event can’t ever know who saw their store, who mentioned it to a friend or who returned later to make a purchase.”

First Friday skeptics will be watching closely this week, particularly if their storefront was damaged last month. Even if there is a palpable lightness of being in the crowds and goings-on, there will be a lot of pressure to keep the peace – especially after the event officially shuts down at 9:30 p.m.

The rare violence associated with First Friday – another after-hours melee 10 years ago led to multiple arrests – has never been laid fairly at the feet of First Friday itself. Even the crowds are different. But the event has been a catalyst for after-hours mischief, and it’s essential we get a grip on that. Starting this Friday.

You can bet Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength will do his best to do just that. “I trust his expertise,” Durant said.

In addition, the conditions that give rise to occasional bursts of lawlessness – downtown and elsewhere – still need to be addressed: lack of parenting, a loss of individual responsibility, a breakdown in social mores and so on. That discussion, which has little to do with and goes way beyond the confines of First Friday, is only beginning.

We need a new era of accountability nationwide. We may as well start in Augusta, Ga.

For now, let’s celebrate – openly, defiantly and with abandon – the fact that we own the streets of this town, not the badly outnumbered and outwitted pea-brain thug.

If you’re for peace and freedom and civility and safety, you can make a huge statement in favor of all of those things this Friday. And have a good time doing it.

Let’s overwhelm the darkness with our light.

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