Regulated to Death 

People in Richmond are dying while the mayor and City Council try to regulate our noise and dancing habits.

click to enlarge SCOTT ELMQUIST

Shockoe Bottom, despite big plans to transform the area into a creative arts and culture district, continues to make news for violence outside of nightclubs. On Oct. 8, Justin R. Morgan was shot in the face and killed outside of Have a Nice Day Café, just the latest in a string of high-profile killings in the area.

In the spotlight of this shooting and other recent violence, Mayor Dwight Jones continues to use such tragedies to increase local regulations on area nightclubs. His solution to the problem is to beef up Richmond’s ridiculous and puritanical dance-hall ordinance in the hope that this will somehow curtail violence.

Dancing has no connection to violence in the streets. The public dance hall ordinance requires businesses to pay a yearly fee, hire security and off-duty police officers if more than 10 percent of the club’s floor space is used for dancing. Passed a year ago, the law simply requires businesses to spend more money, and do more paperwork, to continue doing the same things they’ve been doing for years.

The same weekend that Morgan was murdered in the Bottom, there was another murder in Richmond — a shooting in the Creighton Court public housing complex, where Lewis J. Johnson Jr. was killed. There was markedly less media coverage and fanfare around this murder and the following vigil. The Creighton Court homicide happened nowhere near Shockoe Bottom, and no one suggested lagging regulations on nightclubs, or any kind of dancing, was the culprit.

Richmond is not lacking in laws, regulations or police officers. Instead the regulations run counter to the city’s renewed push to capitalize on the creative energy in the Bottom. The city announced Nov. 1 that it intends to expand the arts and cultural district along Broad Street — a key target of police crackdowns and the city’s building code and zoning police for the last three years — to include Shockoe Bottom.

It hasn’t worked on Broad Street, and it won’t work in the Bottom. Spending more money on police and code enforcement has so far done nothing but erect obstacles to the city’s burgeoning arts and culture community, the very community that the city claims it’s trying to nurture and leverage to grow a depressed local economy.

Let’s take a quick inventory of the city’s policing efforts: Richmond has an overcrowded, inhumane city jail that’s run by a corrupt, incompetent sheriff. In 2010, the city auditor suggested Richmond has 250 police officers too many for a city our size, and could shave $3.3 million from the police budget. The same mayor and City Council that enacted the public dance hall ordinance is currently retooling a noise ordinance ruled unconstitutional. Technically, it made normal conversation illegal.

The city’s solution to dealing with blighted neighborhoods, the Community Assisted Policing program, known as CAPs, in its most recent past focused on shutting down art galleries along Broad Street.

Richmond police have repeatedly proven to be inept at crowd control, opting to hose down the streets in the Bottom after the clubs let out, install security cameras and tear gas teenagers with nowhere else to go on Friday and Saturday nights.

Violence happens when people have disputes and they don’t have better ways of managing their emotions or dealing with their problems.

Statistically speaking, violence can often happen in places where people gather. This is terrible and heart breaking, but it is not the fault of the event or area or venue or entertainer. These things happen, and will continue to happen, even if you do regulate our local economy and amazing art and music scenes into the ground.

Acknowledge the socio-economic problems in our city. A lot of crime, including violent crime, comes from poverty. Finding creative ways to bring education, transportation, jobs, sports, clubs and more to the people of Richmond will have a profound effect. Combined, these things create real hope. And people with hope and positive things in their lives are much less likely to participate in random violence, drugs and gangs.

Richmond needs more free outdoor events aimed at residents, not suburbanites (the convention center, First Fridays, canal walk, and other classic downtown renovation tactics fall into this category). If the goal is to decrease violence, let’s get radical in how we address the roots of the problem. We have to work on the underlying causes of violence in our communities.

Let’s get rid of the Standards of Learning and make education interesting again. Let’s create jobs that pay a living wage. Let’s make public housing something residents can be proud of and allow them to have a voice in the process. Let’s increase public transportation. The people who live in Richmond now want jobs and sports teams and hobbies and concerts and clubs. If we change our priorities we can have these things, but we have to stop Mayor Jones and the police from counter-productive regulations and practices that are hurting our creative community and local businesses. It is time to stop beating our head against the same walls, and get innovative to move Richmond forward. S

Mo Karn is a member of the Wingnut Anarchist Collective.

Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.

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