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Bar owners and concerned Maconites talk nightlife safety with community leaders

Around 80 people met at Niche 385 to discuss solutions to violent crime downtown

MACON, Ga. — Commissioners, community leaders, bar owners, promoters and concerned Maconites met as part of the Macon Violence Prevention (MVP) Initiative. 

The main focus is how to make Macon's nightlife scene safer. 

This forum comes after a shooting on Cherry Street left two people dead and two others hurt a little over a week ago.

Sheriff David Davis says a fight began in the area of the Thirsty Turtle before moving down the street toward the corner. Back in November, in the same area, one person died and six other got hurt from a shooting. 

Monday, it was an extremely emotional evening for many at that meeting--one of the first meetings of its kind where bar owners, community leaders, and concerned citizens all met in one room to talk about solutions to violence. 

People were talking about the safety of their loved ones, their livelihoods, and the future of this community overall. 

"What's being done to me is an overreach of authority. It's not fair," Obelgoner said. 

Tim Obelgoner owns the Thirsty Turtle on Cherry Street. The bar's alcohol license has been suspended twice. He says his bar isn't at fault for the two deadly shootings that happened in November and this past month. 

Darrin Ford owns A Brooke Haven Lounge down the street. 

"Two weekends in a row, I had to bring my patrons off the sidewalk because of people were barreling out of the Thirsty Turtle because of a fight," Ford said. "This isn't rocket science." 

Ford referred to the Thirsty Turtle as "the elephant in the room," saying something has to be done to address the violence around the bar. 

But finger-pointing wasn't the reason most were there. 

"My son was murdered two months ago. I come to these rallies and I come to these meetings. Here y'all go saying who did what, who did this, that's the end of that. What I'm here for is to get a solution -- our city back," said Venice Hillman. "Taking away [Thirsty Turtle's] license is no better, because, guess what they're going to do? Find another club."

One of the solutions many went back to more law enforcement precense and security downtown.

"If you're attracting 150 to 200 people, it should be mandated that you have deputies outside," said Ray Wilson. WIlson said if deputies weren't an option, to look into other resources like private security companies.

Even bar owners echoed the need for more deputies at their bars. 

"I just need them to come out and patrol, so when the club is over, when the bar closes, they go home," said the owner of Midtown Bar and Grille.

Colonel Henderson Carswell says the Bibb County Sheriff's Office is already working on adding more deputies downtown--particularly on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. 

Another topic in the meeting was the bar's responsibility for patrons, including if a fight moves from inside a bar to outside.

"Everyone has a responsibility. The club has a responsibility. The police do have a responsibility. The parents have a responsibility," said Mattera Drafts, owner of Niche 385. 

Folks also offered other solutions like setting up a meeting for just bar owners, the mayor, sheriff, and law enforcement about a way forward. They also discussed starting a downtown-wide ban list so if someone is thrown out of one bar, they don't get into another bar.