On a recent Saturday evening, there clearly was no lack of police presence along Ocean Boulevard in downtown Myrtle Beach. Within a block, uniformed officers patrolled on bicycles, on foot and on motorcycles. A visitor somehow unaware of the mayhem a month ago surely would wonder why so many police officers.
On June 18, seven people were shot in what has been described as an ongoing conflict among North Carolina gang members. Derias J’Shaun Little, 17, Mound Gilead, N.C., one of the young men charged, also faces a variety of criminal charges in North Carolina, including possession of a highly lethal sawed-off shotgun.
A widely viewed Facebook Live video, showing Little shooting into a crowd near Fifth Avenue North and Ocean Boulevard, made clear Little was no stranger to firing the handgun he drew from his trousers. The video, made by a visiting firefighter, has created a tourism marketing nightmare and illustrates one of the multifaceted aspects of the overall problem: the gun culture which pervades the daily lives of Americans.
The fortunate fact that most of the shooting injuries were not life-threatening does not diminish the fears of some. Veteran motel operator David Perkins, in an essay to The Sun News, writes: “This July 4 was one of the worst ever. I own a quiet family motel and I have many repeat customers that come back year after year, and yet my revenue figures from Father’s Day weekend through July 18 are down 18 percent to 25 percent from the same period last year.”
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Perkins writes that desk clerks are confronted by guests who arrive “... to find their family beach in what seems to be lockdown mode.” Visitors “who decided to give us a chance anyway hoping it was simply an isolated, unfortunate incident between unruly teenagers [are] welcomed by barricades and flashing warning signs.”
Perkins calls for the barricades and flashing warning signs “to be taken down immediately. These will not stop crime, but they will and have stopped tourists from wanting to stay here once they have arrived.”
The barricades were placed along Ocean Boulevard following the shootings. It’s questionable if barricades would have prevented the large crowd of young people on a “seniors weekend” from walking down the boulevard, halting vehicular traffic. The barricades are not going to make anybody feel safer. Who wants to be hemmed in?
Perkins perhaps speaks for many business people on Ocean Boulevard who have held back from public criticism. The barricades and flashing warnings probably are necessary at times, particularly Memorial Day weekend, but business owners, possibly watching declines in revenue, are right to challenge their effectiveness all summer. The barricades are like a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.
The tourism problem for the area requires more than a plan crafted by the city manager, the City Council, the mayor and other leaders. More law enforcement presence on the boulevard no doubt is part of the solution, but the root causes of the senior weekend shootings are societal – lack of personal responsibility, unsupervised teenagers, the gun culture.
Barricades and a greater police presence are not a long-term solution for such a complex problem. City officials should not be satisfied with a Band-Aid.