By Hollis Wormsby, Jr.
All of my older readers recognize this week’s title as an old Marvin Gaye song, and it was one of the first thoughts I had when I heard about what happened at WorkPlay over the Labor Day weekend. I had a friend, close to my age who was at another event at the venue that let out at approximately the same time as the event targeted to high school students, who told me that she literally feared for her life and another friend who had a child at the event who lost their cell phone during the chaos, who called to say how frightening it was for her until her daughter finally called on another friend’s phone to say she was alright. Based on these accounts and the accounts of a few others I have talked to with direct knowledge of the situation, Mercy, Mercy Me, may be the best we can say.
The WorkPlay venue is an event center that is set up to be able to handle multiple events at one time. On this particular evening there was a teen sorority event being held in one part of the venue, and an adult celebration unaffiliated with the teen event that was being held in a separate area. The parent who called said she had been assured that all participants would be screened for weapons and that there would be a heavy police presence at the event. Other parents have told me that there were only three off duty police officers hired for the event and that part of the problem was that when things began to get out of control there were simply not enough police present.
One parent I spoke with said that there had been the presence of a group of males who were not attending the teen party on the sidewalk outside the event throughout the evening and that he felt those teens should have been made to leave the area if they were not attending the event, and he thinks this could have made a difference.
My thoughts are all over the place on this tragedy. First of all, if we are not safe at a venue like WorkPlay, where are we safe ? The friend near my age who attended the event, noted that she had thought of inviting two people who would have been much less mobile. They noted that as they exited the venue they literally walked into a hail of gunfire, such that they were forced to drop to the ground and crawl in fear for more than a block. Is this the way we want citizens to have to live in our community?
The other thing that stands out in this story is the ongoing accessibility to guns for teenagers in our community. Why were there multiple weapons readily available at an event that was targeted to people under 18 years old ? At that age you cannot legally own a handgun, and it is past time as a community that we start holding someone responsible for teen access to handguns.
The next thing that stands out in this story, is speculation as to what will be the consequences once they do identify the shooter. It is a path we have been down before, right after the incident there is a wall of outrage, but after a few weeks and no recognizable consequence, life goes on and we meekly wait for the next tragedy.
The Shaunesty Lowe column last week pointed out part of the problem with law enforcement and violence in our community. This man has been arrested time after time and released back into the community to continue his life of crime. If and when they identify the youth who shot into the WorkPlay crowd that Sunday, they need to be charged, they need a bail high enough to send a message, and they need to be charged as adults with attempted murder. No more he was a good boy, and this is not who he was, or just one more chance and he will turn his life around.
The over the mountain crowd acknowledged they had a problem with their young people being impacted by meth, and that it was causing them to lose young people both to death and to destroyed lives. They decided as a community that they would not accept this assault on their children. So whereas in Birmingham we always hear about how bail is so low because of the bail schedule, over the mountain communities said that people who do meth are a threat to our children and we want bail set at a number that says this is unacceptable. You get arrested for meth over the mountain and your bail will be between a half million and a million dollars. Has this eliminated the meth trade over the mountain, no it has not, but most would agree that it has been a tool in reducing its impact.
In Birmingham out of control violence by unsupervised youth is a greater threat to the safety of our kids than meth is over the mountain. Those parents who care, need to demand that the powers that be develop a more impactful strategy for reducing this unprecedented risk to our children and a large part of that strategy needs to be stop bailing out violent criminals on nominal bail rates that help to grease the revolving door called justice in this community.
Or at least that is the way I see it.
Hollis Wormsby has served as a featured columnist for the Birmingham Times for more than 29 years. He is the former host of Talkback on 98.7 KISS FM and of Real Talk on WAGG AM. If you would like to comment on this column you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.