Life in the big city

by Brian Clarey

It started inside the N Club just a few weeks ago: a scuffle that ended with the 86-ing of the two offending parties — with a little buffer time in between, as is the standard protocol in bars everywhere.

Not that it really matters where it started. What matters is that afterwards, some jackass started waving a gun around and squeezed of several shots, hitting four innocent people, before getting shot down by Greensboro police.

By the way: Nice job fellas. And then came the predictable outrage from all quarters — perfectly natural, because no one in Greensboro is in favor of gunplay downtown — followed by the predictable overreaction.

At some point, someone realized that neither the city council nor downtown stakeholders has the authority to shut down a privately owned business, and that nightclubs have little control over their patrons after they leave the clubs.

What a lot of the players don’t seem to grasp as of yet is that we cannot control who comes to our downtown district any more than we can control who lives in the city itself. And we certainly cannot govern what people do when they’re down there when they’re following the law.

It was only a matter of time before someone suggested changing the laws.

Last week District 3 Councilman Zack Matheny held a press conference to propose a response to this single, sensational incident. Some of it makes sense. We already have surveillance cameras downtown, so we can live with adding a few more in the interest of public safety. Imposing new standards for nightclub security is likewise an intuitive move — though it should be said that neither of these things would have prevented the shooting on February One Place that night.

The issuance of entertainment licenses makes a kind of sense, and it could give downtown club owners some additional leverage with the folks who sometimes forget that the city’s nightclubs bring almost a million people downtown each year, but it could also kill venues like the Green Bean, where security has never been a problem.

We maintain that it is difficult to enforce a loitering ordinance in a district that has been branded as a great place to hang out. And we hold that charging $5 for evening parking — also tangential to the shooting, by the way — will not have the desired effect of curbing the partying that is apparently going on in the parking garages. But it will remove one of the best things about our urban center, one on which the whole city has been bragging for years and upon which much of downtown’s success is pegged: Free parking at night.

And an 11 p.m. curfew for minors is that rare suggestion that offends both parents and children alike.

The fact is that downtown Greensboro is not a gated community.

It is the urban center of a city that’s grappling with its own identity as it grows and matures. And people are allowed to be there, even if all they want to do is stand on the street and watch the eye candy go by.

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