This couldn’t happen here. Until it did.
In an incident laced with equal parts horror and sheer brazenness, one man was killed and two others were wounded in a gunfight in downtown Greensboro on Nov. 16.
All of this unfolded in the light of day, within spitting distance of the sheriff’s headquarters, the Greensboro Police Department and the Guilford County Courthouse.
Bullet holes riddled a plate glass door in the courthouse, which was placed on lockdown. At least four bullets struck the sheriff's building. Three of them pierced office windows there. One bullet hit a computer monitor on an employee's desk, the News & Record's Jamie Biggs reported.
You would think that if this were a planned attack, as Greensboro police believe, why do it so near the front steps of law enforcement?
Did any of these people think about that? Did they care?
“This is absolutely insane and I am very concerned about it,” Greensboro Police Chief Brian James said. “To have a shooting in broad daylight like this in the middle of downtown — a heavily populated area, people going to court, people going to work, people just trying to live.”
Even more disturbing is that the incident was only one in a long list of fatal shootings in the city this year.
In fact, the city already has set a grim record for homicides. As of this writing, there have been 56 violent killings in Greensboro in 2020, 11 more than the previous record in 2019.
With nearly a month to go.
Greensboro police Chief Brian James cited “approximately 1,190 assaults involving ﬁrearms” this year, a 19% increase over 2019.
Sadly, it has become an annual tradition in Greensboro to count lives lost alongside holiday shopping days left.
As in previous years, the violence has disproportionately affected the Black community.
Of the 56 homicide victims this year, James said, six were white, three were Hispanic — and 47 were Black. Most assailants and victims were in their late teens or early 20s.
This fits a broader pattern.
Statewide, Black people are seven times more likely to die from a gun homicide. Nationally, Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to be killed with a gun, according to the gun violence prevention organization Everytown.
These Black lives should matter, too.
As for the Nov. 16 shooting, within days, police had arrested 18-year-old Sterling Jaisean Tyler of High Point in connection with the gunfight.
Greensboro police have made 30 arrests in connection to this year’s 56 homicides. But the harder question is how to prevent the violence in the first place. As Chief James rightly noted, that’s not a police problem. It’s a community problem.
Obviously, COVID-19 is a major factor. It has raised stress levels and cost many their jobs. For young people it also has removed structure and routines, disrupted social connections and increased idle time.
And just as domestic violence has spiked during the pandemic, so has other types of violence.
In a national study of violent crime in 28 U.S. cities homicides were up 34% for September and October of this year versus 2019. Assaults were up by 11%.
In Greensboro’s case, an already-troubling situation became worse.
Gun homicides here were ticking upward (with increases in three of the last four years) before the virus.
What to do?
Move forward with the Cure Violence program, as the City Council already is doing. Cure Violence uses a surgical, neighborhood-based approach to resolve conflicts before they escalate and has been successful in other cities.
And if it proves successful, expand it. It would be well worth the investment.
James also launched a Violent Crime Strategy in May that involved matching the greatest needs with the greatest resources.
He has renewed the police force’s emphasis on community policing as well, though it seems we’ve been talking about the concept forever.
More help from Congress, where sensible gun-regulation reforms go to whither on the vine, also would be useful. (Greensboro police have confiscated 1,000 guns this year.)
As for the rest of us, there’s a familiar but important to-do list: Support mentoring programs; mobilize churches to provide safe alternatives for youth; and support public education, even as it struggles to cope with COVID.
“It’s not your neighborhood today, but it could be your neighborhood tomorrow,” James said.
"If anyone in Greensboro does not feel safe in their own home we should all be concerned about that, no matter where you live."