SUMMER IS the trying time in Savannah, and not only because of the heat and the bugs.
With school out, few jobs available, and temperatures too high to comfortably stay inside houses without air conditioning, Savannah’s most poverty-and-crime-ridden neighborhoods are at even higher risk for violence.
Locally, this is often accompanied by all kinds of foolishness on the part of elected officials. This summer looks like a doozy on all fronts already.
Less than a week after public schools let out, 15-year-old Mikell Wright was shot and killed at an Eastside apartment.
Three other teens, two of them 15 and one of them 13, have been charged.
As shocking as the very young ages of the participants are, another shock came later.
All three teens—including the 13-year-old —are being charged as adults in the murder.
I don’t remember much about being 13. I think it involved watching Gilligan’s Island after school, and being vaguely aware of having really nice feelings about Mary Ann.
The idea of shooting someone, or being charged for murder, wasn’t even at the farthest fringe of my universe. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to live in that world, or to try and raise children in it.
Soon after Wright’s murder, someone fired shots into the apartment complex where the murder happened, triggering a larger investigation.
And that saga is just one chapter in the sadly predictable spike in summer violence.
Early Monday morning on the Eastside, the 19-year-old driver of a suspected stolen vehicle shot at police several times after he was stopped. He was apprehended and no one was hurt.
On Sunday night, a man in his 20s was wounded by gunfire while in a car in Cuyler-Brownsville. There was a four-year-old child in the back seat.
On Saturday night 26-year-old Valantine Gant was murdered on the Southside, apparently in a drug deal gone bad.
A three-year-old child was in the car. The child was hit by shrapnel from the shooting.
And on May 31, another 15-year-old was shot on the Westside.
Summer’s only just begun.
What’s supposed to be a time of leisure and fun for children has, in some parts of Savannah, become hell on earth.
As the powers-that-be continue to sing the praises of increased tourism and increased development downtown, Savannah’s poorest neighborhoods are at dire risk.
Most troubling of all, the risk seems to be metastasizing to a younger and younger population every year.
The only way out of this quagmire is leadership—from politicians, from families, from neighborhoods, both in weeding out criminals and in increasing education and economic opportunity.
But what happens when the leadership is itself criminal?
Continuing his stellar record of responsible public service, Chatham County Commissioner Yusuf Shabazz was involved in a bizarre hit-and-run last week.
You’ll recall the last time Shabazz made the news was summer 2014, when he urged a boycott of a locally-owned business he accused of cooperating with police in the shooting of Charles Smith on Augusta Avenue, not even in his district.
The business owner said he feared for his family’s safety due to the Commissioner.
Cooperating with police is clearly a major sin in Shabazz’s mind, as evidenced by his latest shenanigan.
In the hit-and-run, Shabazz was driving what’s cryptically described as a “non-emergency medical transport vehicle,” i.e., used to take people to medical appointments.
A City-employed flag person directed traffic around the unloading of heavy equipment. Shabazz elected to ignore the flag person and drive around, striking the flag person with his side mirror, causing injuries.
The politician didn’t stop, but came back later, allegedly saying “Tell the police I’m Commissioner Shabazz.”
And he left again before police arrived.
Police served Shabazz’s attorney with several citations, including leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, reckless driving, and driving on the wrong side of the road.
Because the injuries likely don’t qualify as “severe,” the charges are all misdemeanors.
(The flag person says she will press charges, begging the question: Why is it up to her to press charges?!)
I wonder what would happen if you or I left the scene of a hit-and-run, twice, while driving a vehicle possibly carrying ill and infirm patients?
You have to wonder how differently Shabazz was treated due to his status as an elected official—one who has clashed with police before and encouraged the public to disrupt law enforcement activities.
Also, and this is pure speculation, you have to wonder if he got away with anything by leaving the scene, i.e., a Breathalyzer test and/or a blood draw.
I mention this because another County Commissioner, Dean Kicklighter, was recently arrested and booked in jail for DUI (actually “DUI Less Safe”) after breaking a Garden City speed limit by 20 mph.
There’s no good guy in either scenario, but here’s what Kicklighter told police, as captured on video:
“I know I fucked up, I know I did. I’m sorry.”
Not to try and make Kicklighter into a hero, but compare his words to Shabazz’s and draw your own conclusions.
Come to think of it, a few years back Thunderbolt Alderman and Mayor Pro Tem John Hall was also busted for DUI.
You probably know John Hall better today as a Savannah City Alderman, representing one of the most crime-plagued districts in Savannah.
It’s difficult to enforce the law, or to ask citizens to take the law seriously, when our leaders disregard it so often. And in Shabazz’s case, with such blatant contempt.
As long as voters keep electing and re-electing people like this, they shouldn’t be surprised when the youngest and most impressionable among us continue to lose their way, often in a lethal fashion.
To use an unfortunate firearm analogy: Our politicians didn’t hold a gun to anyone’s head to get where they are. They were put there by the voters, and with us is where the ultimate responsibility lies.
Maybe it’s time for people to say, “Tell Commissioner Shabazz I’m a voter.”
In last week's story on Smith Bros. reopening on Liberty Street, we misidentified their preferred coffee roaster.
The featured coffee roaster of choice at Smith Bros. is Savannah Coffee Roasters, who have had a long and fruitful relationship with the Smith family for over 40 years. We apologize and regret the error. Now go to Smith Bros. for some awesome coffee!