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Staff file photo by Troy Stolt / Willie George, along with other residents of Chattanooga's Westside light candles at a memorial set up on the 1100 block of Grove Street just days after the Sept. 25 shooting at a block party on Grove Street. There now is a $20,000 reward for information about the violence that killed two women and injured five more.

In good and bad ways, this has been a catch-up week in our region, with some things long ignored at last being resolved, or at least refocused. Meanwhile, one other thing — COVID-19 — has roared back to remind us we've not made anything like enough progress on the practical preventions we've known we needed but continued to ignore. Let's pull some string.

Too long coming

Finally, almost three months after Chattanooga's mass shooting at a block party on Grove Street left two women dead and five other women injured, the city announced a cash reward of $20,000 to anyone with information leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved.

The real and burning question is: Why did this take so long? Spoiler alert: We don't have an answer.

Almost immediately after the shootings on Sept. 25, a then-Chattanooga Police spokeswoman objected to our characterization of seven people shot in one setting as a mass shooting. She said CPD uses the Congressional Research Service and FBI definition: events where more than four people are killed with a firearm within one event, and in one or more nearby locations — something more like the mass shooting in which five servicemen were killed here in 2015.

But like the well-respected and often quoted Gun Violence Archive and most other shooting databases, we don't think accuracy of aim should have anything to do with tracking mass violence. By GVA's definition, a mass shooting one in which four or more people are injured by gunfire.

By any definition, seven people shot in one setting is too many. And by any definition, every effort must be made to respect these women and to solve the crime — including an announcement of rewards — sooner, much sooner, than three months later.

To be clear, we don't doubt for a moment that Chattanooga Police investigators have done their best to bring closure and accountability to this tragedy. According to a media advisory from the mayor's office this week, "CPD detectives need more corroborating information and cooperation from eyewitnesses that could help bring the suspects to justice."

Long before, the community had stepped up. Organized by Community Haven Chattanooga president and local Nation of Islam leader Kevin Muhammad, Chattanooga's black community rallied and within about three weeks after the crime, had advocated for justice, organized marches and raised half of the now-$20,000 reward.

We also commend Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly and the city government for committing to sweeten the pot — albeit with a much-too-delayed announcement.

If you have information that can bring you that reward money, call anonymously to Crime Stoppers at 423-698-3333.

 

Let's follow Atlanta's new masking example

As COVID-19 begins another rapid surge thanks to the now dominant omicron variant in Tennessee, Georgia and across the country, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms on Tuesday reinstated a mask requirement inside stores and other businesses in the city just 117 miles southeast of us.

With nearly 6,000 new cases Tuesday, Georgia's seven-day average of infections has more than doubled in less than a week.

Tennessee cases also are up, according to what Health Commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey told the Nashville Tennessean on Wednesday, noting Tennessee reported more than 2,900 infections and 14% test positivity on Tuesday — the highest statistics in weeks. A 5% or lower positivity rate is what health officials hope to see, and the state's average infections per day has more than doubled since a low point in November.

Will our city, county or state follow Atlanta's example? Don't bet on it.

Remember: Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee did not impose a statewide mandate even early in the pandemic, and he signed legislation on Nov. 12 that severely limits local governments' authority to enact their own mask rules.

Hold responsible Gov. Lee and our legislators who backed the mandate against mandates. Meanwhile, mask up, vax up and boost up.

 

Important vacancy filled

Hamilton County school board members with a vote of 7-0 on Monday approved new Superintendent Justin Robertson's contract with an annual salary of $225,000.

Robertson, a 13-year district veteran who most recently has been serving as interim deputy superintendent, is set to take over as permanent superintendent on Jan. 1. He will fill the shoes of former Superintendent Bryan Johnson, who left Hamilton County Schools in August to take a leadership role at trucking and logistics business U.S. Xpress.

Robertson's contract, like that of Johnson's, includes bonuses if Hamilton County student performance continues to improve.

For instance, if at least half of all third-grade students are on track or achieve mastery as measured by the TNReady English Language Arts assessment, he will receive $5,000. He can also receive another $5,000 for each of these markers: when 38% of all students across all grades move on track in Algebra I, when the average ACT composite for the class of 2023 is 21, when 90% of students who entered high school in the 2019 cohort graduate by summer 2023, and when Hamilton County Schools maintain at least a Level 4 Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System score.

We're pulling for Robertson to snag all of those bonuses.

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