As Augusta officials continue to fret and wring their hands over recent violence after First Friday, from Columbia County’s perspective you have to wonder: Why not demand safety and security every Friday?
For that matter, why not demand safety every day? Everywhere? Why even tolerate roving bands of thugs and the violence they stir?
Much of the reason is cultural, without doubt. One person’s dangerous gang is another’s group of fun-loving teens. But Augusta, to its everlasting detriment, allowed squeamishness about such perceptual differences to prevent it from taking proactive steps to prevent thuggish – and just plan boorish – behavior from accelerating the downfall of Regency Mall. The less safe it felt, the fewer paying customers visited; the fewer paying customers, the more the mobs took over.
Such a death-spiral continues to threaten Augusta Mall, and with First Friday it’s all come full circle: It was the malls that nearly killed downtown Augusta in the first place; now the same pathologies that killed Regency Mall and that infect Augusta Mall are threatening downtown in the midst of its resurgence.
There are no easy solutions. But Augusta Commissioner Bill Lockett has it exactly right when he says Augusta can’t let misbehavior dictate the city’s activities.
Columbia County is far different demographically than Augusta, but it’s also different in that Sheriff Clay Whittle’s staff seems wisely to be less tolerant of misbehavior every day, everywhere.
That way, the Fridays take care of themselves.