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Wolves at the door
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BODIES IN THE RIVER. Gunshots at football games. Meth labs in Ardsley Park. Fights in the squares. Shootings on River Street. Dog packs roaming the town.

Target practice at passing cars at four in the morning, just for the hell of it.

There are times you feel things spinning out of control. It's a nearly palpable feeling of dread and a grim foreboding about finding yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This time around, our downward spiral started at the beginning of summer with the killing of firefighter Wesley Franklin.

It intensified Labor Day weekend with the horrifying random murders of Emily Pickels and Michael Biancosino as they drove by Henry and MLK. That same weekend came the shooting death of Tiyates Lamont Franklin on River Street.

The growing series of local crimes -- awfully mirroring a national outbreak of mass shooting incidents -- spiked again this past weekend with another drug-related murder, another body fished out of the Savannah River, and a bizarre account of fights and gunshots at youth football games in an otherwise bucolic Daffin Park.

Everyday conversation in Savannah is cycling back to that perennial topic, crime. The chipper voices of local boosterism are subdued. Some of our most notable local optimists are openly musing that perhaps Savannah really has seen its best days, that things are just not going to get better.

Some folks are even committing the cardinal sin -- unforgivable sacrilege! -- of wondering why they moved to Savannah at all. Why didn't we go to Bluffton, they ask, where people don't wake up wondering if they'll get shot today?

In the movies and in literature, packs of wild dogs are an age-old harbinger of chaos and terror. As Jessica Leigh Lebos reports this week, even that is on the upswing, with distressing results that -- while obviously not as physically destructive of human life -- are still terrorizing.

The deteriorating public safety situation in Savannah is concerning enough, but what's been nearly as disconcerting is the reaction of people we trust with authority.

One of the incidents I mentioned, the fight in Ellis Square, is an example: A white man, Andrew Quade, with a black girlfriend got into a rumble with several black men. Quade ended up badly beaten.

Now, crime is crime and violence is violence, and I'm not one to put a lot of stock in the idea of hate crimes in general.

I'm not suggesting they don't happen -- I'm saying I lean towards thinking that laws should apply equally to everyone.

That said: if you're inclined to look for racial circumstances in these things, clearly this incident would be fertile ground, no?

Um, no! Or at least that's what your city government decided was the most important aspect. Not the assault itself -- but whether or not it was a hate crime.

After the fight we received what was quite frankly one of the longest, most detailed press releases about local crime we've seen. It came through Savannah/Chatham Metro Police, but was clearly intended as a statement from the "unified command" of Mayor Edna Jackson, City Council, and Police Chief Willie Lovett.

Citing video footage, the lengthy memo set out to exhaustively prove that the Ellis Square fight wasn't racial in origin and therefore wasn't a hate crime.

I will say -- and this is purely my interpretation -- there also seemed to be a certain amount of blaming the victim, in the sense that the release inferred that Quade had essentially asked for the beating.

I'm perfectly willing to entertain the idea that there were no heroes that night. But regardless, shouldn't our takeaway be that there was a street fight in one of our most popular and well-traveled squares?

Chief Lovett said that bogus hate crime allegations "impede the investigation and they taint our community unfairly."

Love ya, Chief -- but isn't it crime that taints our community unfairly?

It was dispiriting to see our ship of state, so hard to turn around in the best of circumstances, steered so inexorably in this misguided direction during a time of crisis.

The Labor Day weekend murders, including the dreadful killing of Pickels and Biancosino in a car minding their own business, brought a similarly odd twist.

Chief Lovett told one interviewer, "No innocent people, as far as we know at this point, were targeted." Quite a shock to friends and family of that young man and woman shot by an apparent urban sniper.

Sure enough, two weeks after the murders, police issued another statement, this one saying "Neither Emily Pickels nor Michael Biancosino were involved in any wrong doing as far as police know."

I don't mind police and elected officials making sweeping moral judgments about actual criminals. But when they start to parse character traits of the victims, we've arrived at a confusing and unhelpful place.

If one day in some other lifetime someone is dumb enough to make me their police chief, I wouldn't waste time soft-pedaling anything. I'd go the other direction.

I'd tell people, "Look, you're surrounded by idiots with guns. You have to pick a side. We'll do the best we can to hunt them down, but you're dreaming if you think we can read these idiots' minds. Help us help you."

I don't blame police for crime, and they shouldn't be defensive about it when it happens. Crime isn't their fault.

And I don't ask that police somehow make the root societal causes of crime go away. That's way above their pay grade.

I just want the criminals to go away.

The only way out of this mess is for everyone to admit it's a mess. Such frankness isn't the Savannah way, but right now it's the only way we've got.