Downtown déjà vu

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brian_clareyby Brian Clarey

We’ve seen it all before.

A parking-lot confrontation late at night, during the mass outpouring of downtown clubbers that happens every weekend after last call goes out. Cops call it “the dump.”

The dump is crazy: thousands of people trying to remember where they parked, heedless of traffic as they lurch along — traffic that tests the limits of downtown Greensboro’s streets and roadways at points along Elm Street and Greene.

Interaction is inevitable.

Early Sunday morning, it was fatal.

One 19-year-old, Patrick Simmons, is dead. Another, Jermaine Couch, is being held without bail in the Guilford County Jail.

And those of us who care about downtown have to figure out what to do about it.

No doubt there will be a reaction from Downtown Greensboro Inc., whose new president, Zack Matheny, marked his time on council with sets of nightlife ordinances that included curfews and sound restrictions. Now Paul Talley, who owns the building housing Lotus nightclub, where the victim and suspect were allegedly partying, is on the board.

On the cusp of an election, councilmembers and candidates will surely seize on this tragedy and shape it to fit their platforms.

And in just a couple weeks, downtown Greensboro will play host to the National Folk Festival, putting immense pressure on a new police chief to come up with a solution to a problem that never fully seems to go away.

The media will do its job with breathless TV reports amping up the climate of fear and newspaper stories that will quickly have their comment threads shut down.

We’ve seen it all before.

And we are not alone.

A shooting that very same morning rocked downtown Mobile, Ala. Since then there have been shootings in downtown Cincinnati and downtown Seattle. We are not immune to a national trend of gunplay and the willingness to engage in it.

There is nothing a bar, a downtown booster organization, a city council or a local law enforcement agency can do about a state-mandated closing time in a nation that’s absolutely permeated with guns.

But they’ll try anyway. Look for a clamor to forcibly close Lotus, buoyed by thinly veiled racist rhetoric. Look for new ordinances that will merely tighten the old ones. Look for Oscar-worthy grandstanding in the name of the good people of Greensboro. And sure as shootin’ there will be awful lot more cops on the downtown streets at night, at least until the folk festival has packed it in for the year.

We’ve seen that before, too.