Curfews Coming for Norfolk Nightclubs?

by James A. Bacon

Norfolk police are cracking down on downtown nightclubs in the aftermath of another shooting incident, this one resulting in a sheriff’s deputy and three others being wounded. The city will expect all businesses in the entertainment district to explain why they deserve the “privilege” of operating, reports The Virginian-Pilot.

City Manager Chip Filer said businesses’ conditional use permits will be “evaluated,” and City Council will start asking “hard questions” about whether it wants any establishments on Granby Street open past 2 a.m., according to the newspaper.

Late-night businesses should prepare to explain to Council why they should be allowed to continue operating downtown, the city manager said. “Make no mistake: operating downtown in Norfolk is a privilege.”

The injured deputy was helping other law-enforcement officers address an altercation at the Legacy Restaurant and Lounge early Friday morning. They were attempting to move people out of the club when 25-year-old Tyshawn Gray allegedly fired into the crowd.

Reports the Pilot:

The shooting highlights the struggles the city has had maintaining a safe nightlife environment in recent years. Filer commended the city’s staff and the businesses for their recent efforts in correcting issues with overcrowding, long lines spilling into the streets and loitering that were common around the time of a triple homicide in March. He added that while the problems outside have subsided, the challenge now is to address the problems that start inside.

“You are no longer able to claim immunity for things that occur outside your establishment when we can find evidence that creates no doubt that the genesis of the activity occurred in your establishment,” Filer said. “You will be held accountable for those actions.”

“Make no mistake, this latest event is now the end,” he said. “We have tried cajoling, we have tried asking, we have tried incentivizing, we have tried begging. Those days are now over and the repercussions will now begin.”

Bacon’s bottom line: Police intend to address the shooting epidemic by holding business owners accountable for what occurs inside their establishments. One obvious measure would be for nightclubs to forbid anyone from bringing firearms into their establishments. Applying pressure on proprietors seems to be a reasonable short-term response to the problem. But will the measures work, or will they just displace violence to other locales?

One might ask the question why there is a surge in gunplay occurring in the first place? Is the reason that the nightclubs have gotten more lax? Or that more people have guns? Or that the Code of the Streets is gaining legitimacy among young people? Or that changes in the criminal justice system relating to bail, parole and/or prosecutions mean unrepentant lawbreakers are spending less time in jail? Or some other reason entirely?

It would be useful to know. Otherwise, police may find themselves playing whack-a-mole.