Tar Heel Tattler - September 2005

Downtown Charlotte seeks cruise control
By Edward Martin

Not many years ago, Charlotte boosters moaned that after 6 p.m. you could shoot a cannon down the city’s main drag and barely risk winging so much as a pigeon. Now they complain that the cruisers who flock downtown on weekend nights are for the birds. Cruisers say it’s their color that’s ruffling feathers.

Problems boiled up after the July 4 celebration downtown, when about 2,000 rowdies tossed fireworks at police, harassed motorists leaving parking decks, fired shots and fought police and each other. Cops arrested 17 before things settled down. Some weekend crowds since have rivaled the holiday crowd in size. Police spokesman Keith Bridges estimated there were more than 40,000 people on foot and in cars downtown one Saturday night.

“We love having people coming in, going to restaurants, bars, theaters and the amenities,” says Moira Quinn, spokeswoman for Charlotte Center City Partners, a downtown booster group. “But these kids don’t have a destination. They’re hanging out on the streets and sidewalks without performing any commerce.”

She denies race is a factor. However, on one July weekend night, police issued 148 citations for drunkenness, improper turns and other offenses. Virtually all, Bridges says, were given to blacks and Latinos. Virtually all of the cruisers were blacks and Latinos, too.

The problem is not new, only the location. A few years ago, Sunday-afternoon cruisers clogged Charlotte’s Freedom Park in a mostly white neighborhood. After a police crackdown, they moved to two predominantly black neighborhoods. Their appearance downtown has again raised concern.

Some blacks contend Bank of America and other businesses have tried before to clear them from their doorsteps. They point to a transit center — where the July 4 disturbance began — built on city land two blocks from the downtown square with $9.3 million from the bank. Buses had stopped near the entrance to its corporate headquarters.

Center City officials say cruising can be controlled. The number of police downtown on weekend nights has been doubled to about 100, and traffic lights have been programmed to speed cars through. As for race? “There are lots of reasons cruising in the inner city is bad,” Quinn says, “but it doesn’t matter if you’re black, green or purple.”