Editorials, Opinion

‘Normal’ must be returning: Brawls downtown are back

If there was any doubt that things in Morgantown are beginning to return to “normal,” the brawl outside a downtown nightclub in the wee hours Saturday night/Sunday morning should be proof enough.

Our downtown is a mecca for small and locally owned businesses, but it’s also a place where many fear to tread. Some people avoid the area because daytime loiterers make them nervous (which we’ll discuss tomorrow) while others know it becomes the Wild West after sundown.

Many townies remember a time, pre-pandemic, when High Street fights or shootings or stabbings were mentioned almost daily in news reports. It was general wisdom in the outlying neighborhoods that you’d better not have an emergency requiring police assistance on a Friday or Saturday night, because the cops would be too busy downtown to help you. Our reporter Will Dean, who also has two-plus years of experience working in bars, will tell you that — pre-pandemic — officers would hang out in front of Cold Stone Creamery and Code and wait to break up fights that spilled into the streets.

Unfortunately, downtown’s bars are at the center of it all.

Here’s where the city as a whole becomes caught between a rock and hard place. We want to support local businesses; most of downtown’s bars are locally owned. But we’re also sick of the drunken stupidity and violence that’s particularly prevalent nine months of a normal year.

Alcohol-induced absurdity and carnage are not exclusive to Morgantown. Unlike larger cities or even smaller towns, where places to get plastered are more spread out, Morgantown has a high concentration in a small geographical space. There are roughly 16 bars and/or nightclubs in about a five-block area.

The tight space downtown pretty much forces drunken stupidity to interact with itself. It’s not uncommon for a fight to break out in one area and resume in another, because it’s almost inevitable that the participants will run into each other again. This might be what happened in the incident involving the Uber driver. The target of the attack, the car’s male passenger, had gotten thrown down in front of Sports Page earlier, just to be attacked again outside The Bank.

The after-hours violence downtown is obviously a problem. Not only is it dangerous for those involved, but it also scares off people who fear becoming collateral damage because they happen to walk by when the fighting breaks out. Many bars open as early as 8 p.m. and places are usually hopping by 9 or 10 at night. It can be a nerve-wracking experience to get to your car after a show at the Met Theatre or a late dinner at one of the restaurants on a Friday or Saturday evening.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a good solution to offer. Increased police presence won’t stop the drunken fights from happening, only shorten their duration. Getting rid of the WVU students isn’t feasible either. (While students and townies may have a contentious relationship at times, there is no denying students provide an economic boost.) Getting the bars out of downtown is technically an option. However, we don’t want to see small businesses be forced to close their doors. 

Then again, a solution may not be ours to suggest.  Maybe a task force of bar owners, law enforcement, city council members and community stakeholders could come up with an answer. We’d just like to see downtown become a place that’s inviting to everyone, regardless of time of day.