There is an analogy about a “stopped clock being right twice a day” I always try to keep in mind when dealing with stupid people, as to not let myself get lax in my thinking and let underestimation get the better of me.
It is from this basis that I have determined that statistically speaking, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield must be a digital clock, because he sure as hell beats even the statistical odds of the analog. But this week, he got something right.
Moving the Bessie Smith Strut from its traditional Martin Luther King Boulevard location is incredibly bold, and not without merit despite the end of the world predicted by both local businessmen there. (I joke. There are at least four).
The reason? Safety.
Yes, I know … A Martin Luther King Boulevard in this country that is dangerous? Dr. King was a man of peace so this is absurdity at its best, to be sure, but every damn year in this town at this event there is some terrible memory or psychological scar left on the cops (and attendees over 25) that know how bad this event is, and how bad it could be in ways we couldn’t anticipate.
Starting around 6 p.m. and ending at 11 p.m. in its early days, the event was a boon to the local purveyors of turkey drumsticks, barbeque and chopped wiener plates (which my colon still curses, damn you Memo’s Grill) not to mention the hectares of chilled beer that are served, which lead to the obvious altercations and widespread displays of urination.
But it’s not the micturition and fights that have the cops (and parents pushing kids in strollers with beer in the cup holders) so nervous year after year. It’s the damn youth packing guns that would inevitably appear at one point or another.
Sure, “just” one person was killed over 10 years ago, but so hectic is the event that even though the venue was shut down at 6:30 p.m. last year most people didn’t realize it until 8:30 p.m., so aggressive were the patrons (largely teens) ignoring the reopened roadways status.
A crowd rush (a panic of hundreds of people moving like a flock of birds) is generally the worst you have to expect for the first half of the Strut, and those usually started conveniently around dusk. But in the last three months this city has had more than 25 shootings (not including the nationally broadcast shooting of nine people Christmas morning at a “Christmas party” downtown). All 25 were black-on-black shootings, and this is an event held in a black neighborhood celebrating a black blues singer (known not so much for her bisexuality as she was her rampant alcoholism).
When tensions are not high, this is a high-stress event. But when they are, safety can’t be guaranteed, and it can’t even be assumed, and cops and cities are in the business of protecting people. This year, the mayor decided to create a controversy about not allowing a crisis to occur, as opposed to being blamed for a crisis he could have prevented, and I have to say, I agree with him.
This event that usually cordons off eight blocks of roadway downtown for the day isn’t being cancelled, but rather celebrated on the main site of the festival nine blocks north, because unlike MLK, it has controlled access and existing security in place. And that makes it “racism.”
Last Friday, local black leaders Napoleon “Donut” Williams (a retired cop, himself), James Mapp (a past NAACP president), Kevin Adams, and the Rev. Jeffrey Wilson held a press conference to protest this move and innovative words like “racism” were repeated over and over.