A stand for safety

Augustans must fight downtown crime -- and its perception

A brutal assault on out-of-town guests on Augusta’s Riverwalk on May 3 shouldn’t define the city or its downtown.

But perhaps our response to it will.

We were discouraged to hear several speakers at a Downtown Augusta Alliance forum Wednesday carry on as if everything is fine, or that the real problem is a media feeding frenzy.

A South Carolina couple enjoying the Riverwalk May 3 was robbed and assaulted with a metal bat or club, fracturing the man’s skull; about the same time, a video of an April brawl on Broad Street surfaced. Not everything is fine.

Moreover, the media haven’t created anything. The community was horrified by the Riverwalk assault, and the media have accurately reflected that. And the brawl video? It came to light on the Internet, not in the news media.

Be thankful it did surface, rather than be angry at the media. We need to know what’s going on.

We agree completely that downtown Augusta is largely quite safe. But burying one’s head in the sand and blaming the media for dutifully reporting what’s going on won’t do anything to make downtown safer.

Having said that, we were excited by the turnout at Wednesday morning’s forum on the Riverwalk – not just the number of attendees, necessarily, though there were several dozen. It was the character and familiar faces of the crowd that was so encouraging. There’s a positive, energetic base of downtown Augusta supporters, and they were well represented at the forum.

Most of them do see the need for action: for increased lighting and security, and perhaps cameras.

Augusta Commissioner William Fennoy urged a solving of the crime and a reward to smoke out the perpetrators. And he said he wants to see a fundraiser for the victims.

“We have got to show the community that we are a
caring community,” Fennoy told the crowd. Noting that the area has invested $60 million to $70 million on the riverfront’s Reynolds Street in recent years, Fennoy said, “We have got to change that (unsafe) image.”

Richmond County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton told the crowd the department is shifting resources to respond, and that city Administrator Fred Russell is looking for funds to beef up security.

Eric Parker, co-founder of theClubhou.se – a creative technology club for people working to make Augusta a better place – says his partner Gordon Jones designed a free phone “app” called Guardian Watch that could help Augusta be safer. It allows people to send alerts or to photograph, video – even live-stream – a public incident or crime. Your phone gets free notifications of such things in your area or, for a small fee, for the entire area.

“It’s basically the digital-age version of neighborhood watch,” Parker told us.

Yet, despite the app being created here, Parker notes, “We’ve actually been getting much better response from it in other cities around the country. This is the first time, it seems, that people are paying attention to the fact that a homegrown product could help solve our problems.”

Parker, a Silicon Valley architect, is homegrown himself, having returned to Augusta in part to help lead the city’s technological renaissance. A part of the Downtown Augusta Alliance, he also realizes area businesses must fight not only crime, but the perception of it.

“Everybody that I know loves Riverwalk,” he says, “and to hear something tragic like this  happening at Riverwalk got  everybody together finally to talk about how to solve problems instead of just hoping that things get better.”

As for whether folks are overreacting to the May 3 attack, Parker says, “Possibly, to a certain extent. But I don’t think that you really can overreact for something like this. This is a horrible occurrence, and we can’t tolerate it. If we’re doing something positive, then I don’t see how it can really be considered a bad overreaction.

“We talked a lot internally about whether this is something where we try to come up with a list of demands for the city or whether we try to take action ourselves as the local business community.

And I think we all decided that this is our city too, and so we’re going to do what we can as a business community to solve the problems.”

In the end, it’s folks like Eric Parker – not the Riverwalk robbers – who will end up defining Augusta.

As long as others join in.

More

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 23:05

And the award begrudgingly goes to …

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 23:03

Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon