Recent incidents of violent crime in downtown Grand Rapids could be a drag on an otherwise healthy trend of growth and revitalization. While building and development of downtown continue apace, outbreaks of violence leave everyone feeling shaken.
Last summer the Grand Rapids Swing Society changed venues from Rosa Parks Circle after gang members jumped some of the dancers and there was a panic and stampede. The Swing Society is back downtown this summer, but it’s had to fundraise and make arrangements with the Grand Rapids police to provide security for the event. And while it’s worth it for the city to make the police available given what larger events like ArtPrize and Laughfest generate for downtown businesses through increased hotel and venue spending, a more diverse, walkable, shoppable, livable downtown economy will not emerge if people are scared they will be harassed, robbed, or beaten up when they spend time in the city instead of in suburban malls.
And then there’s the shooting to consider. While other areas of the city, particularly the southeast and the northwest sides, are no strangers to street violence, recently we’ve had incidents downtown as well. In June, after another brawl in Rosa Parks Circle, two teens took shots at each other outside of Buffalo Wild Wings. One was critically injured; both were shot in the back by Rodney Armstrong, a four-time offender who is being held on a $750,000 bail bond. Later in June, shots were also fired outside of McFadden’s. No one was injured in that incident.
Grand Rapidians don't have to look very far to observe other cities that have been taken down by violence that spiraled out of control. Detroit is in ruins and bankruptcy. Flint isn't far behind. The entire east side of the state is burdened with the end result of the Detroit riots of 1967. When homeowners and businessmen do not feel the and their property will be protected, they flee and they take their tax revenues and their revenue generation with them.
Right now the nation is watching as the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson deals with the aftermath of Monday’s riots. QuikTrip at this point in time has no plans to rebuild the gas station and convenience store that rioters looted and burned down, and Wal-Mart is closing early after it was looted and will have to decide its future store hours based on the safety of its store. Decisive action on the part of St. Louis police will make a crucial difference in what the business community, small and large will do in the future or if Ferguson will become an economic wasteland like Detroit and Flint.
Does the City of Grand Rapids have a procedure for efficiently dealing with large scale or uncontrolled violence and looting? The entire local economy depends on it and the readiness of the Grand Rapids Police Department to implement it and discourage this kind of violent, antisocial behavior.