It would be inappropriate to let 2017 end without again raising the names of Leah Elizabeth Brown, Colwin Lynn Henderson and Tremel Dupree Dean. Not long ago, their names were attached to an event that shocked Lawrence. Now, it is doubtful that a majority of Lawrence residents even know who they are.
Brown, Henderson and Dean are the three people who were killed as part of an Oct. 1 mass shooting on Massachusetts Street. Two other people were injured in the shooting, while hundreds of downtown visitors were subjected to the scene of emergency responders unsuccessfully trying to save the lives of people lying in pools of blood on city sidewalks.
In the hours after the early morning shootings, Lawrence leaders were shocked. A Journal-World article that ran a few hours after the shootings that happened about 1:40 a.m. on a Sunday stated: “As Sunday morning came down, Lawrence leaders were grappling with why violent crime seemingly is on the rise in the city.”
The article went on to highlight that Lawrence had experienced five homicides between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1. That is what Lawrence leaders were to grapple with then. Now, we know Lawrence leaders are not good grapplers.
It appeared Lawrence leaders had good intentions, though. Mayor Leslie Soden asked several questions that morning: Would more security cameras downtown make sense? Are more officers needed to walk the streets? Would it be beneficial if Massachusetts Street was closed to vehicular traffic on Friday and Saturday nights?
Soden said she wanted to discuss downtown safety with Lawrence’s new police chief, particularly safety around drinking establishments.
“Having a big conversation with the new police chief will be important,” Soden said.
If that conversation has occurred, the public hasn’t been privy to it. And make no mistake, the public needs to be a part of this process. It is a mass shooting on a public sidewalk. The deaths are tragic, as all homicides are, but these also potentially can be devastating to the core of Lawrence. How many more mass shootings in Lawrence’s top entertainment district can we withstand before parents decide they’ll send their children to some school other than the University of Kansas?
City leaders should follow through on their initial reaction. Have a serious conversation with the police chief, with business owners and with the entire public about safety in downtown Lawrence and at drinking establishments across the city.
Do not mistakenly believe that the best course of action is to talk little of this, lest we draw negative attention to downtown Lawrence. That is a shallow argument that puts the self-interest of a few ahead of the good of the many. Plus, how awful would we all feel when the next shooting occurs?
It is fine for us to hope that another shooting never occurs in downtown Lawrence. But it is a lousy strategy. Douglas County has had nine homicides this year, which is the most in at least a decade. Equally concerning is that there appears to be a trend of more violence that occurs in public places, which is the worst type of violence because it increases the risk to innocent bystanders.
How Lawrence has reacted to this mass shooting has been one of the greatest disappointments of 2017. A new year, though, can bring new action. Lawrence can use this tragedy to become one of the more progressive communities in the country in dealing with gun violence in entertainment districts.
Thanks to Kansas’ concealed carry law, we have an entertainment district where it is permissible to carry a gun and consume alcohol. While there are legal limits to how much you can drink while carrying a gun, how are those laws reasonably enforced? Can bar owners and the police department come together to create innovative security measures? Does the city — does anyone — do enough to spread the message that guns and alcohol don’t mix?
The makings of a good conversation are there. This time, we ought to actually have the conversation, rather than simply saying we will.