Graffiti (copy)

Graffiti is painted on the wing wall of the railroad trestle over Reynolda Road last month. Graffiti, such as this one reading CUAJIx3, has increased recently in the West End. Police attribute it to a local street gang leaving its tag.

The name Tony Plath appears in these pages from time to time on matters of business.

A retired professor of finance at UNC Charlotte, Plath has been for years a go-to guy for journalists hunting perspective and insight. “I return reporters’ phone calls,” he told Business North Carolina magazine several years ago.

That’s all well and good when it comes to such complicated but boring matters as banking, finance and the rapidly changing landscape of retail shopping.

But nowhere — and at no time — did Plath ever claim to be a clairvoyant or an expert on society’s ills.

Yet earlier this month, when asked about the impending closing of Macy’s at Hanes Mall, Plath had this to say: “Between the rise in shootings by teenage kids who haunt mall properties these days and the loss of anchor tenants, shoppers are just abandoning malls in droves for the Internet.”

And we all know what happened at Hanes Mall over the weekend.

High-profile incidents

As shootings go, on its surface, the one Friday would barely ripple the pond — if not for its location.

An 18-year-old shot and seriously injured a younger teenager about 8:30 p.m. The victim was found on a sidewalk outside J.C. Penney and treated for the proverbial “serious but non-life-threatening injuries.”

According to Winston-Salem police, Isaac Banos-Salazar was charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, discharging a firearm into an occupied dwelling, carrying a concealed gun and discharging a firearm within city limits — a charge as toothless as it is goofy.

Banos-Salazar, investigators allege, let loose several rounds from a Taurus 9 mm semi-automatic handgun outside the Forever 21 clothing store. Remember that next time you agree to shuttle a vanload of middle-school girls over there.

It’s no secret that Hanes Mall, through no fault of its own, is the single largest consumer of police resources in the city.

Data collected (and analyzed) in 2018 indicates that officers from the Winston-Salem Police Department are summoned to the mall nearly twice a day every single day. Two-thirds of the offenses written up by officers are for larceny, a crime most of us would call shoplifting.

Actual acts of violence, whether random or targeted, are very unusual. Serious or life-threatening injuries even more unusual.

Last August, a 32-year-old husband and father named Julius “Juice” Randolph Sampson was shot to death after speaking up in defense of female bar employees being verbally harassed by, in the words of a Forsyth County prosecutor, a “powder keg.”

Further complicating matters, the use of the N-word escalated the confrontation and likely will play a prominent role in trial of Robert Anthony Granato, 23, who was charged with murder in connection with Sampson’s death.

Before the trial ends, it will severely test the accepted limits — and legal definitions — of self-defense.

Paul James, the chief public defender for Forsyth County and Granato’s lead lawyer, said as much in a recent bond hearing.

“(Granato) was prepared to defend himself,” James said. “That’s the whole point of concealed carry. … Even the most obscene invective is not reason to assault someone.”

Bottomless cycle

None of those factors, it would seem, were in play Friday night when gun violence once again visited Winston-Salem’s most popular recreational shopping destination.

Banos-Salazar, the accused gunman, knew his victim. The shooting, police said, was not random. The encounter between a belligerent man and Sampson, a working man taking a late lunch break, was.

This latest shooting involved a specific target gunned down for an as-yet unspecified reason. Stray rounds struck Forever 21, a popular destination for tween and teenage girls.

Bullets don’t have eyes, only scientifically calculable trajectories that sometimes strike unsuspecting, innocent people. Motives, including gang involvement, are harder to prove.

Alberto Rios Navarrette, a 5-year-old boy for God’s sake, died in July after being struck by a bullet in a hail of random gunfire. Four teens, all 17 or younger, were arrested.

We the citizenry are caught in a tragic and expanding cycle of teen vs. teen gun crime that carries the unmistakable whiff (and suspicion) of gang involvement even if police don’t specifically tag it as such.

A month after little Alberto was killed while playing in his parents’ apartment, three teens were shot and injured at a mobile-home park not too far away on the city’s south side. Another 18-year-old, Eduardo Ozuna, was charged in connection with that incident.

On the other end of the spectrum, near the steps of the kiddie pool of gang involvement, is a recent spate of graffiti — tagging — connected to a local street gang Cuaji-13, a loose affiliate of the international Surenos.

The bottom is nowhere in sight, and solutions are hard to come by.

Chief Catrina Thompson of the Winston-Salem Police Department said as much at a news conference last week — four days before the mall shooting — when she said that gangs are driving the violence in part because its members step in where families fail.

“We’re the biggest gang in this town,” Thompson said of the city’s more than 500 sworn officers. “We need to take charge at instilling hope in our children.”

That’s a big statement, and commendable for its intent. But that’s not a cop’s job. It’s much bigger than that and out of the reach of a badge and gun.


PHOTOS:  Hanes Mall shooting

ssexton@wsjournal.com

336-727-7481

@scottsextonwsj

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