We were excited to spend Saturday night with my son and daughter in love celebrating her birthday. We decided on the coolest, most expensive restaurant in downtown Jacksonville, Cowford Chophouse.
We drove downtown and our path took us by The Landing. We all looked at the building that had been home to so many fun times – like the fireworks on the 4th of July or the lighting of the Christmas Tree. There were people milling around inside and we were happy to see that life was coming back after a mad man brought death to her last Sunday.
A mad man with numerous mental illnesses had driven from his home in Baltimore and used a gun he should not have possessed to kill innocent people.
It’s been a week today and it didn’t take the ambulance chasers even a week to file their lawsuit – with many more to come.
I tried to shake the feeling of unfairness and the laying of blame on others instead of the mad man so we could enjoy the birthday girl’s night. We walked into the Chophouse and the place looked like something out of a New York upscale restaurant. Two floors of diners and a rooftop lounge made you proud of your city. The blue bridge glowing in the night sky and the river glistening below it made us forget about the mad man for a while.
After our dinner and dessert on the rooftop, we walked outside to retrieve our vehicle. As the valet ran to get our car, a panhandler came up to us at the entrance to the Chophouse. He was disheveled, cup in hand and begging for money. All around us were others lingering on the street. Just outside the upscale restaurant, fear for our safety took over.
I looked around. There were no police. There was no security in the restaurant and I realized we had not seen any on the three floors either. And I thought, “What would stop a mad man from walking in here right now and doing what he did at The Landing?”
The beautiful NY-like restaurant was no different than The Landing. They were both vulnerable to a mad man. They were both targets for crime. They were both dealing with panhandlers and homelessness.
As we drove away, I thought of all the restaurants and local small businesses we support. What if a mad man showed up there?
And what about our downtown? All the big plans to make Downtown Great Again seem hopeless if we don’t cure the problems we face: crime, homelessness, children abandoned by their parents, and the mentally ill who are ignored and pushed aside among us. And the biggest culprit of all – the lack of looking at each other, spending quality time together and meeting the needs of our family, friends and neighbors seems non-existent anymore.
We can put a police officer in every school and yet kids will kill each other in the parking lot after a football game. We can tear down buildings where mad men wandered in yet mad men will go to other buildings and do the same thing. We can sue innocent people who were also victims of a mad man and that will change nothing except the lives of those affected by the lawsuits. We can demand security in all restaurants, retail establishments, and schools and who will pay for these demands? Businesses will close. Lawyers will win. And the people will still be unsafe. Nothing will change.
There are deeper issues we must face as a society and when you bring those issues up – people get mad. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to address them.
There is a deep fear in our community about discussing the truth behind all the crime and maybe, just maybe, someone in leadership will have the courage to address it. If not, nothing will change.
Mad men will continue to destroy lives. The homeless will lay on our streets. Panhandlers will panhandle. And crime and gangs will escalate.
And the Morgan & Morgan’s of the legal world will wait in the hallways of hospitals to grab their next client.
Here’s the answer for Jacksonville: It’s time for tough leadership and not just throwing money at a program again and again. We tried that already and you see where that got us. What Jacksonville needs are tough leaders with tender hearts and calloused knees coming together for the people of this great City.
It’s time to stop the madness of fighting amongst ourselves over petty issues between cliques of people and focus on restoring the greatness of a once beautiful downtown and coastal city.
Until this madness stops, no one will rule in this city except the mad men.