There is plenty of truth in the old adage, solemnly intoned by generations of parents, that nothing good happens after midnight. The pre-dawn hours are where mischief dwells, the time when caution too often takes a backseat to impulsiveness.
That’s some of the reasoning behind a proposal in Norfolk to close bars and nightclubs downtown at midnight. Less late-night alcohol, they reason, should make for fewer late-night problems and help curb a spate of deadly, destructive violence there.
However, the operative word here is “help.” This plan asks a lot of business owners, some of whom have operated responsibly and in good faith for years, but does not match their sacrifice with the sort of comprehensive crime-fighting proposal that can deliver safer streets in Norfolk.
It is clear that things cannot proceed as they have, not when the city is recording a relentless number of homicide deaths. The people of Norfolk deserve to have safe streets, to be able to go out and enjoy their community without fear they will become a statistic.
The entertainment district in downtown Norfolk is one such place. The streets bustle at night with residents and visitors heading to performances at Chrysler Hall, hockey games at the Scope or concerts at the Norva. They eat at the excellent restaurants or enjoy drinks at the bars and nightclubs.
This year, however, the area has been the scene of violence all too often — from the March 19 shooting that claimed three lives, including that of Virginian-Pilot reporter Sierra Jenkins, to an Aug. 5 shooting three blocks away that left four injured, including a Norfolk Sheriff’s deputy.
Following the Aug. 5 tragedy, City Manager Chip Filer announced that downtown businesses would need to justify their operations in order to remain open.
“Make no mistake: operating downtown in Norfolk is a privilege,” Filer said at a news conference.
His plan, backed by some council members and the downtown civic league, would see bars and nightclubs close at midnight. But some business owners argue that heavy handed action would punish all for the missteps of a few, meaning those working to protect their patrons safety would be treated the same as those which do not.
There is some research that supports Filer’s plan. Several studies have shown that earlier closing times reduce violent crime and other risky behavior; former Gov. Ralph Northam employed similar logic when imposing pandemic-era restrictions on bars. Less time to drink means fewer drunk people making bad decisions.
But that also translates to less revenue for businesses still recovering from those same pandemic restrictions. As rents increase, supply costs rise and workers want higher wages, a substantial drop in sales could sink establishments already struggling to stay afloat.
Those are legitimate concerns that deserve robust debate, but asking some downtown businesses to close early won’t by itself achieve the sort of citywide reduction in violent crime that residents deserve.
A midnight curfew wouldn’t have prevented the deadly Aug. 25 shootings at Wards Corner and Tidewater Drive. Criminals shot seven people, four fatally, in two incidents that happened under mostly sunny skies on a Thursday afternoon. And that’s one of many examples.
No, preventing that sort of depraved, senseless violence will require comprehensive community action, involving city officials, law enforcement, judicial services, mental health organizations, medical professionals, educators, faith leaders and, of course, parents.
Ideally it would enlist support from state and federal officials to bring additional resources to this fight, and involve partnerships with neighboring communities, understanding that crime doesn’t stop at the city line. Gun violence is hardly a crisis specific to Norfolk, and all of Hampton Roads needs to pull in the same direction to deliver lasting progress.
A midnight curfew for downtown bars and restaurants may be part of a larger plan, but it cannot be the entirety of City Hall’s strategy. Downtown violence is a symptom of a larger sickness, and Norfolk will need to treat the cause of that illness if it is serious about reducing gun violence.