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City seeks to avoid a repeat of July 4 violence

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police crime scene tape

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GREENSBORO — It may be the timing, but violence that happened Saturday night reminded city leaders of a similar incident on the Fourth of July last year.

Police arrested 11 people in a series of small fights along South Elm Street late Saturday, authorities said. Those arrested ranged in ages from 16 to 20, said police spokeswoman Susan Danielsen.

By Monday, the city was searching for a solution to the violence, Mayor Robbie Perkins said.

“The root problem is, ‘Why are these large groups of young people congregating downtown?’” Perkins said. “This is a problem for the city of Greensboro. It’s a problem for youth. It’s a problem for parents.”

This weekend’s arrests happened from about 11:15 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday.

The charges included assaulting a law enforcement officer, inciting a riot, affray and public disturbance. No injuries were reported.

The incident, for some, brings to mind something that happened in Center City Park several hours after the downtown Fun Fourth Festival ended last year. Reports said 22 officers on duty after the event had to use tear gas to control a defiant crowd. Witnesses said some in the crowd taunted police and provoked dozens of fights.

Police were trying to enforce a curfew, which requires visitors to leave the park by 11 p.m.

The idea of a new curfew was floated in city meetings last year, but never materialized.

The city has two issues, Perkins said Monday. What to do for downtown security on Wednesday and Thursday, during the festival, and during the weekend after the festival. And, why are there so many underage people going to clubs and still downtown at 2 a.m.?

Perkins said he doesn’t want to “jump into a solution” before he receives recommendations from Police Chief Ken Miller.

Perkins said Miller and police staff are assessing Greensboro’s options.

The city on Monday reached out to people all over the city to get their input on resolving the problem, Perkins said.

“We know that last year, we had some incidents downtown during the Fourth of July,” Danielsen said. “We had already planned on an increased presence during the Fourth of July. We took what occurred Saturday into consideration.”

The festival begins with a kickoff block party at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Natty Greene’s Pub and Brewing Co. Festivities begin Thursday at 10 a.m. in the downtown cultural district surrounding Center City Park, according to the celebration’s website. Entertainment will include four stages for live music, food, arts, crafts, amusement rides and heritage exhibits.

This year, for the first time, planners are allowing beer consumption throughout the festival, according to the website. Organizers expect 90,000 people to attend the two-day event.

The downtown portion of the festival is scheduled to close at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, when events move to White Oak Amphitheater.

The amphitheater will host a pops concert, Independence Day ceremonies and fireworks.

Last year, hundreds of people lingered downtown after the close of the festival.

But Danielsen said last year’s event was marred by just a few celebrants.

“Most people behaved themselves well,” Danielsen said. “It’s the few that were disruptive and problematic that made the events less enjoyable for other folks.”

Perkins said the city has its best talent working on a resolution to the downtown problem.

Contact Joe Gamm at (336) 373-7090, and follow @josephgamm on Twitter.

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