Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Frequent crime outburst a cause for concern around Tuscaloosa

A fight on the Strip left two men hospitalized and resulted in two others being apprehended by University police. The apprehended suspects were not involved in the fight, but had fired handguns in the air – in a heavily trafficked area – to disperse the crowd.

A UA student was sent to DCH after incurring non-life-threatening injuries from a pocket knife in an altercation outside of Burke Residence Hall.

Tuscaloosa and University Police responded to another discharging firearm call on the Strip after a fight involving approximately 10 people broke out in the street. Multiple shots were fired during the altercation, and a Northport man was arrested shortly thereafter for carrying a pistol without a license.

Those three events occurred in rapid succession in a strangely violent end to the school year. Now, three months later, shots have been fired again. This time, there are victims.

Nathan Van Wilkins of Northport has been charged with 18 counts of attempted murder. Wilkins, 44, is accused of shooting 17 individuals at the Cooper Top bar in downtown Tuscaloosa early Tuesday morning after shooting another man in Northport late Monday night. One of the victims remains in critical condition; two more are in serious condition. Three UA students and a UA employee suffered non-life-threatening injuries.

Yet given the scope of the tragedy, things could have been much worse. The police, by all accounts, responded in a timely manner and handled the situation well.

“TPD was on the scene real quick. They did a good job… As soon as I told them I was an EMT, they let me take over and treat people,” Ryne Chandler, an emergency management technician who was at the scene, told The Crimson White.

But responding well really isn’t enough. Tuscaloosa and the University face a growing crime problem, and leaders in both City Hall and Rose Administration need to work together to address it.

Yes, the probability of witnessing a shooting or being injured in a gunfight in Tuscaloosa is incredibly low. But even the perception of risks creates serious problems.

Student life, the local economy and football-generated tourism are all dependent on students and visitors having confidence in their safety when they go out in public.

That confidence has been seriously shaken over the past year. The first major scare came last fall, when a graduate student was killed by a stray bullet at the glistening new Sterling Crimson apartment complex. The bullet was fired in a gunfight at a nearby convenient store. Later in the fall semester, an undergraduate student was stabbed in a restroom in Lakeside Dining Hall.

Now, a string of gunshots across town has left many wondering whether the city is safe.

Nothing will solve campus overcrowding faster than anxious mothers absorbing this torrent of bad news and recalling children they think are in danger. Nothing will deter new recruits more than similarly anxious parents steering their proud high school graduates to campuses and communities that appear secure.

Tuscaloosa Police Chief Steve Anderson said Wilkins, who eventually turned himself in to police at a FedEx store in Jasper, may have been targeting a specific person at the bar.

“When he first got there, people were out there on the sidewalk, and he stood for several minutes, watching and observing, before ever firing a single shot,” he said.

A man was allowed to stand on the sidewalk in downtown Tuscaloosa for several minutes with what the TPD described as a “military style assault weapon” less than an hour after another shooting occurred across the river, and no one noticed?

No patrols rode past? No officers were stationed along the popular corridor?

Of course, it isn’t just a police problem. Citizens also have responsibilities. If people were out on the sidewalk, why didn’t they alert authorities? If they did, what caused the delay?

Answering these questions and conducting a thorough review of the incident could go a long way in showing real concern on the part of local authorities.

If they do, they will likely find the public is more than willing to support them.

If the police need more resources and have a plan to put those resources to good use, they should ask. Even moderate increases in local taxes and student fees would be worthwhile investments if they result in enhanced public safety.

Law enforcement authorities should also make an example out of the Copper Top shooter. He shot several innocent people in a popular bar, disturbing the peace and livelihood of our community. He deserves to be turned into an example.

Likewise, they should make an example out of all the other culprits in these incidents, by alerting the media and the public to their prosecutions and their punishments.

The challenges posed by these fearful incidents aside, the University deserves some praise for its reaction to Tuesday’s events.

President Bonner sent out a thoughtful and reassuring response, and UA alerts notified students of the danger Tuesday morning.

The alert was a bit late, though, coming two hours after calls first went in to the police. That was slower than previous notifications, suggesting a time lag for events outside of the UAPD’s jurisdiction.

UA spokeswoman Cathy Andreen seemed to say as much, telling that alerts were sent out as soon as the University was notified. In the future, the city should notify University officials as soon as students are threatened so they can send alerts immediately. This isn’t as much a system failure as it is an opportunity. The alert system relies on new technology, and we should expect to find new ways to improve it as we use it.

Ultimately, the sole person responsible for this shooting was the pathetic shooter.

But this is the latest in a disturbing trend, and it is a trend that needs to stop.

Tray Smith is the online editor for The Crimson White.

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