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Quick fixes don't work as time passes

A call to scale back Erie County's 4 a.m. bar closing time has quietly slipped into the night.

It was bound to escape our short attention span. It was a hasty solution to the wrong problem, and it got us nowhere in dealing with inconceivable tragedy.

In the days after the Aug. 14 City Grill shooting, a long-debated proposal to scale back "last call" for local bars resurfaced. Four people were dead. Four others wounded. We needed answers. We needed to feel that there was something that could be done.

Nothing good happens in the dead of night, the argument went. Late-night booze binges were fueling violence.

Lawmakers promised to discuss the issue when they got back to work. Bar and restaurant owners publicly debated the proposal. The ideas came quickly: Shut the bars down early. Close Chippewa Street to underage patrons. Bring out the police wagon.

But none of these predictable proposals could address the enormity of the problem.

As details of the shooting emerged, the county's closing time seemed to have less and less relevance. The barrage of gunfire erupted at 2:30 a.m., not after 4 a.m. The victims were attending a privately promoted party. The upscale restaurant where the shots rang out was blocks away from the Chippewa district.

There seemed to be little correlation between the summer carnage on Main Street and the bump-and-grind drinking scene on Chippewa. Forcing businesses to close early would have been like taking NyQuil when you've got a broken leg.

"There has not been a public outcry or a private outcry for an earlier closing time," Legislature Chairwoman Barbara Miller-Williams recently told News Staff Reporter Matthew Spina.

We all grasp for answers in the wake of tragedy. But turning back the county's drinking hours was a reactionary proposal that had little connection to the shocking deaths.

It's human nature, I guess. We latch onto a quick fix, only to let the real trouble fester away.

Since those August days, however, there has been little progress made in addressing the underlying problems that led four people to be shot dead downtown.

This is a complex problem, and there have been steps. Anti-violence rallies and peace vigils have been held. Police presense has been boosted in neighborhoods with late-night bars. A suspect, Riccardo M. McCray, is in jail, and the court process has moved forward.

But our picture of what happened that summer night -- and how it could have been prevented -- remains fuzzy. And the shootings have continued.

In September, McCray's brother-in-law, Ahmen R. Lester, was killed in a daytime drive-by shooting that police termed a revenge homicide.

It happened again three weeks later. A gunman sprayed a house on Hewitt Avenue with 19 bullets at about 9 p.m. Sept. 30. Dominique Maye, 15, was working on her computer. The Riverside Institute of Technology freshman dropped to the floor and died. Police said she was an innocent victim.

The violence continues, but widespread public outrage has slipped away.

The City Grill massacre was seen as a wake-up call in the days after the shooting. People were galvanized to look for solutions. Closing bars early wasn't the right answer. But what has been done since to answer the call for change?

Nearly six months since four died on Main Street outside City Grill, we are left with little more than unanswered questions. Little more than the private heartache that's left after the public's attention moves on. Little more than four senselessly lost lives.

When will we start looking for the real solutions?


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