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Wild melee can’t be allowed to damage perception that Chippewa District is safe

Image matters these days, possibly more than ever given the ability of social media to magnify and distort any event. So news of a recent large-scale melee in downtown Buffalo’s Chippewa area requires a response from civic leaders.

The obligation is clear: the Chippewa Entertainment District must be safe.

City officials and business leaders must be able to reassure visitors, residents and those considering relocating to downtown that the brawl early Monday morning was an isolated incident. It should not deter anyone who wants to move into the city’s core, nor discourage those who already have made the transition.

Last weekend’s Buffalo Living Tour offered developers the chance to showcase wonderful renovations that turned historic buildings into open, airy lofts with incredible views, at monthly rents ranging the low $1,000s to high $2,000s.

The Chippewa District has long been a draw for young people. It is eclectic, offering numerous restaurants and activities. Occasionally there are fights. Police and business leaders work hard to keep them from happening. For the most part, those efforts are successful. Still, the scale of this latest incident is troubling.

As News reporter Lou Michel wrote, a fight started inside a West Chippewa Street bar at about 3 a.m. Monday. It quickly escalated in size, with more than 150 people moving outside where they brutally attacked one another.

Gunfire was heard near the intersection of West Chippewa and Delaware Avenue, according to police. When it was all over, one man was arrested and another was admitted to the trauma intensive care unit in Erie County Medical Center.

At a news conference, Central District Police Chief Joseph A. Gramaglia gave a few details: two shell casings were recovered, but no one was wounded by gunfire. That was the good news. The situation could have been much different, with grieving families and badly injured bystanders and participants.

District detectives working on the case with the State Liquor Authority and the city Licensing Bureau have their work cut out, as they pore over surveillance videos showing young people kicking and punching each other. What started as a promoter-sponsored “Whiteout Night” party (named such because everyone who attended was required to wear a white T-shirt) in the Lodge Bar & Grill at 79 W. Chippewa went horribly wrong. While the promoter provided some security for the event, there obviously wasn’t enough to quell what was to come. On top of that, Sunday night is usually a slow night on Chippewa, so police presence was lower than on Friday and Saturday nights.

Law enforcement is doing a good job in the area. Police officers are constantly patrolling the area. Surveillance cameras stare out at the action, and Gramaglia isn’t shy about asking business owners and private individuals with security cameras to share their footage. They can register for the department’s “Buffalo SafeCam” program at bpdny.org/Home/Services/SafeCam.

The Chippewa Entertainment District is part of what is making downtown vibrant and attractive to residents. It needs to remain safe.