January 5, 2012

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This week’s edition of The Pulse has developed somewhat of an accidental theme. It’s happened before, when a headline becomes so dominant that it’s impossible to ignore, and our contributors independently explore the story unaware the other is mining the same vein.

The now-infamous Club Fathom Christmas Shootout at the Mosaic Church on Market Street lands squarely in those crosshairs. It’s the stuff that makes news directors all over the country salivate to write the copy that scrolled across the bottom of cable TV and news websites: “9 People Shot On Christmas Eve In Chattanooga, TN.”

Variations of that headline appeared on every major news outlet here and around the country as Chattanoogans woke up on Christmas Day. The embarrassing melee was the dominant conversation in many living rooms on a day otherwise reserved for drama of a decidedly lighter variety.

More than a week later, it seems everyone has had their say and there’s plenty of blame to go around, though no one, it seems, is taking much responsibility.

Mayor Ron Littlefield placed much of the emphasis on the operations of Mosaic itself while deftly deflecting the gang issue. Is Mosaic really a church or a business masquerading as a church, he asked, seeking a quick and not unreasonable fix to the problem by simply shutting its operations down, citing the litany of police calls to the establishment in recent years. Littlefield has a point, but he’s putting a Band-Aid on rather large open wound. We’ll get to that.

During his own press conference, Mosaic Pastor Tim Reid did all he could to appear earnest and forthcoming—the argyle sweater vest highlighting his clean-cut Richie Cunningham-like appeal—but we weren’t buying his specious claim that Fathom’s events and advertising were outside of his ability to control. In recounting his organization’s good deeds, he neglected the obvious and, in negating responsibility, we think, earned himself no good graces before whomever he worships. Reid must be held accountable. Whatever he may be—and, we give him credit for attempting to provide a drug- and alcohol-free gathering place for teens—he is surely an amateur when it comes to event organization, promotion and operations. But Reid is hardly alone.

If you recall recent incidents at Mid-Town Music Hall and 807 Fire & Ice, there’s a common thread: These businesses have been operated by people who either have no clue or simply don’t care about the unique aspects of promotion, organization and security that can produce the worst results if they are not managed correctly. Reid claims ignorance, prays and asks forgiveness, but good intentions are no substitute for competence.

Ask any successful bar or club owner what it takes to survive, let alone prosper. They’ll tell you this: Offer the public an inviting environment in which they can enjoy themselves and the company of others safely and you’ll have the core draw. To keep them coming back takes sound business policies, good planning, hands-on management and a team of employees that care about the business. This dedication—from owners, management, employees, even customers—keeps the business running smoothly and, to a lesser but no-less-insignificant extent,  makes the neighbors feel comfortable with your presence.

Now, back to the city’s responsibility.

We do have a gang problem, which means we have a teens-with-guns-roaming-the-streets problem. Which means whatever good this city has done to improve its image can be quickly dashed with one headline such as the one that scrolled across TV screens on Christmas morning.

These are core issues that need immediate and full attention. And while the city repeats its intention to “deal” with the problem by organizing a task force, incidents such as the shooting spree at Mosaic will continue to haunt the city until concrete action is taken. No amount of happy boosterism will draw tourists—or locals, for that matter—into the heart of a city in the midst of an OK Corral-style atmosphere.

We have no doubt our police force is understaffed and, at times, overwhelmed. But is it too much to ask that after numerous calls to a specific location that our own law enforcement officials would not target such a locale for specific oversight?

Hindsight, as we’re certain the mayor, the police and local politicians surely know, is 20/20. The “usual suspects”—race, we note with particular acuity, raises its ugly head again—have all been trotted out. But it is the joint efforts of community, business and government that are truly responsible. Each sector must take its responsibility seriously.

Chattanooga has made great strides, but we are still very much a city in a period of evolution in which such unfortunate events can derail all we have done to resurrect ourselves. To pass the buck without owning some part of that responsibility will surely earn us the derision we deserve.

As the new year dawns, let’s endeavor to live up to our own much-hyped renaissance.

—The Editors

January 5, 2012

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