With another homecoming marred by shooting, TSU considers moving celebration

Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 10:05pm

Thousands of people were still celebrating after the Tennessee State University homecoming parade on Nov. 12 just before noon. Marching bands had just finished thundering down historic Jefferson Street toward the campus for nearly three hours.

The area around the intersection between Jefferson and 28th Avenue had turned into a festive block-party atmosphere.

Then a gun was fired.

In the parking lot of Wendy’s on 28th Avenue North, Lorenzo Vaughn, 19, and Eric Gray, 18, were walking away from the restaurant when a single bullet struck both of them, according to the Metro Nashville Police Department.

The two teens said they heard people arguing when they started to walk away and the shot was fired.

A Metro police officer was nearby, but hundreds of people scattered, and the gunman was never found. Vaughn and Gray were later treated and released from area hospitals.

It was the second time in as many years that this scene played out near the TSU campus during homecoming festivities.

Last year, 17-year-old Devonte Hawkins was shot in the chest at the same Wendy’s parking lot during homecoming activities. He was transported to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in critical, but stable condition.

Now, TSU officials are being forced to re-evaluate their annual celebration. 

“[The shootings] are a concern, and it isn’t something that can be taken lightly,” TSU Alumni Association national membership chair Janet Merriwether said.

According to Metro Police, neither of the shootings involved TSU students, faculty or alumni. Instead, the problem stemmed from other members of the community. 

“The TSU Homecoming event is a significant event for the Nashville area as a whole,” police spokesman Don Aaron said.

“You had hundreds and hundreds of people there, and you’ve got one person with a gun who chooses to fire it with everybody else around.”

Aaron said the police department did everything they could to increase safety. Metro had 42 officers at the parade, including eight “roving” officers. Last year, 33 officers were on duty.

Metro also beefed up their presence after the parade, keeping 25 officers in the area until past midnight.

“Well, what you can’t do is match person-for-person the crowd with a police officer, nor can you send that large outdoor crowd through wands or metal detectors,” Aaron said.

“There’s an element of civil decency that comes into play, and everybody there, with the exception of a very small few, come to be law-abiding and have a good time. It’s a shame that this one individual has created the problem.”

Merriwether echoed those sentiments.

“We have people without the kind of pride that having a college education will give you,” Merriwether said.

“The kind of pride in yourself and that self-motivation to do better does not exist entirely throughout Nashville, and that’s something to look at and work on, and hopefully you can get underneath a problem before it becomes bigger than it should be.”

But after two years in a row, Merriwether acknowledges that it is a problem — and one that she plans to address. She said the TSU Alumni Association will discuss it with executive board members.

In addition, Merriwether said safety is not just TSU’s responsibility — but that local businesses should also be accountable.

“Those businesses that are close to those areas need to take some responsibility,” Merriwether said. “It is not just for TSU to do, it’s for all of us to do.”

Decades ago, the TSU homecoming parade was held primarily on campus, starting near the Gentry Center and circling around 28th Avenue North. But Merriwether said it was still too early to determine whether relocation is an option.

“I do think that we should take an action, whether [the parade] remains centered on campus is another matter,” Merriwether said.

Outgoing TSU Police Chief and former Metro Police Chief Emmett Turner said keeping the parade on campus would be largely unrealistic due to the configuration of streets there.

“Well, this is a tradition at Tennessee State, and this is something people look forward to in this community every year,” Turner said. “I don’t know how you can move it to campus and have it just confined to campus unless you plan on having just one or two bands.”

TSU named Richard Briggance as Turner’s successor on Thursday. Briggance is a 35-year veteran of the Metro police department.

If TSU decided to make the parade more campus-centered that would coincide with a recent initiative by TSU interim president Portia Shields to possibly play two football games at Hale Stadium on campus next year (instead of current venue LP Field). 



Turner said the increase in security this year wasn’t only to curb violence — it also helped with traffic issues.

“The dual purpose was to try to keep people moving and have enough officers in the area to try to prevent any shootings or any other illegal activities going on,” Turner said.

A year ago at homecoming, John A. Merritt Boulevard was gridlocked for hours as drivers found themselves trapped by the street’s dead end on TSU campus.

This year, a helicopter monitored the traffic at the parade to determine whether changes needed to be made.

“The purpose of the helicopter was to look and see if next year we might consider moving it maybe around on the back side of the campus,” Turner said. “We wanted to see where the crowds were and try to make some recommendations.”

If the parade were to move behind campus, in the vicinity of Dr. Walter S. David Boulevard, it would be away from commercial and residential areas. And a 20-year tradition of marching down Jefferson Street would be history.

The TSU homecoming committee plans to address the issue before next year, and Turner will be involved in the decision.

“One of the things we’ll be discussing is how to have this parade next year and how to make it safe,” Turner said. “I don’t know how you can predict whether someone will shoot in a crowd or not. … Those are things you just can’t forecast.”

As of press time, Metro Police were still searching for the gunman in the Nov. 12 shooting. Anyone with information is asked to call 74-CRIME. There is a cash reward.

21 Comments on this post:

By: tomba1 on 11/21/11 at 12:10

And are we to presume that with this huge crowd of people around the crime site, nobody was an eyewitness to the shooting? It doesn't matter when or where the parade is, if the public is not willing to come forward and help the authorities find the shooter(s), then why waste taxpayers' dollars and police officers' time patrolling the event to begin with? Public safety is a 2 way responsibility.

By: localboy on 11/21/11 at 9:14

"Last year, 17-year-old Devonte Hawkins was shot in the chest at the same Wendy’s parking lot during homecoming activities." Seems like a pattern is developing - perhaps a police presence in that lot next year?

By: Bobby1 on 11/21/11 at 10:40

For one thing, a 3-HOUR PARADE is too long ... anywhere. A shorter parade is more manageable, does not create a half a day of traffic gridlock, AND invites primarily people who come out to enjoy the event. The longer the event, the more likely that OTHERS will simply see or hear that something is going on, and come out to take advantage of a crowded opportunity to do no good.
And why, exactly do "...the businesses that are close to those areas need to take some responsibility”? If so, those businesses may well vote for the event to be moved on campus rather than be forced to bear the burden of added security for a school event.

By: PillowTalk4 on 11/21/11 at 12:29

Moving the parade exclusively to campus streets will not solve the problem. It will only compact the crowd into two primary streets, John Merrit Blvd and 35th Ave N. If you include 35th Ave then you risk people trampling the yards of the homes that are also on that street. Homes that have very small yards and are close to the sidewalks. So, I doubt that is a viable alternative. If you move the parade to Watler Davis Blvd, you then close off parking to the Gentry Center which serves as one of the primary parking lots for the parade. It would also add to the traffic congestion after the parade as people use that route as a way around the campus.

Whenever I attend TSU's homecoming parade I tend to park on the west side of the campus because it allows for a relatively easy exit away from the campus. TSU should encourage more people to park in the parking lots located on the west side of campus and use Centennial Blvd to make their way to either Charlotte Pike or Briley Parkway. Trust me it gets you out of the traffic jam on the east side of the campus. That is where most of the activities are and there are very few ways around it due to the layout of the streets and only one entrance to I-40.

As for the shootings, I wish there was something that could be done to stop hoodlums from ruinging this event. The TSU homecoming parade has always been a very fun event in which families and friends, students and alumni come togther to watch high school bands from around the country, youth groups, social and civic groups and of course the TSU Aristocrat of Bands and student groups march from near 28th and Jefferson into the campus of TSU. It has always been a wonderful event for 99.9% of the people attending. It is very festive and it has always had a sense of coummunity about it even with people from all over the country attending. Now, that sense of coummunity is being threatened by one or two people who have no self respect well off respect for others. I hope something can be done to stop the actions of one or two from ruining the festivities of thousands. TSU homecoming parade has drawn upwards of 100K people in past years. Yes, 100K people and there was no violence to be found. What causes the criminal element to come out today is beyond me. Why some people feel the need to bring guns, etc to a parade is beyond imagination. Unfortunately we live in a society in which we can't explain a lot things about human nature any longer. I hope that this person is caught and that if anyone knows or can identify the shooter will come forward.

Next year TSU will be celebrating it's 100th Anniversary. To say the least, it will probably be their highest attended homecoming parade on record. We can only hope that no one will ruin the festivities for the tens of thousands that will be present. We can only hope that those who feel inclined to commit crimes will stay at home. Better yet we can hope that they stop the madness altogether.

By: terry r payne on 11/21/11 at 1:17

TSU is the same as it their stadium nickname...a HOLE. Thinkin about it kinda turns me on.

By: Jughead on 11/21/11 at 3:29

Sad that the folks who want to celebrate their educations have to put up with this. But, look at the demographic.....no surprise.

By: Nitzche on 11/22/11 at 9:12

STATE!!!!!Ia this really a institution of higher learning?They should change their slogan to "the black harvard of the south"

By: NewYorker1 on 11/22/11 at 9:22

"look at the demographic.... no surprise". WOW! What a stab. While you are looking at those demographics, take a look at the all the other demographics in this country as well. For example, Wall Street and corporate CEOs that have drug this country into a financial abyss. Take a look at all the wars this country is actively fighting and killing innocent civilians in other countries. So don't insinuate that because it's a predominately black event that something bad is going to happen because we all have our bad seeds and there's no perfect race in this country so don't even go there.

By: yogiman on 11/22/11 at 9:43

They don't stop the crime by simply changing the time.

By: Jughead on 11/22/11 at 10:31

It's the culture, folks. Thugs and drugs are viewed as heroes. Nothing will change.

By: Jughead on 11/22/11 at 10:36

@NewYorker1: Sheesh--stop drinking the liberal koolaid..you sound even more stupid than your love-monkey, Al Gore.

And, libtard, maybe facts are a good start on your rehabilitation. Blacks commit the vast majority of crimes in this country. And, I'll bet you've never seen a gang shooting at a Renaissance Fair, huh?

Lord, you need de-programming. Sad.

By: NewYorker1 on 11/22/11 at 11:17

And your shit don't stink. Well, I'll let you continue to believe that. You are no better than the thugs. I bet you smile in black folks faces and then turn around and stab them in the back. Just like most of you do.

By: Jughead on 11/22/11 at 11:37

@NewYorker1: Go sit in the corner and try to matter. Typical liberal democrat--scream "racism" whenever logic and fact destroy your argument.

And, go back to New York--it needs you right now.

By: Jughead on 11/22/11 at 11:40

@NewYorker1: Also, stop being so dang paranoid. I normally do not recommend medication, but it may help in your case. Since I'm sure you do not work (and have health insurance), go ahead and burden the taxpayer and visit the local public mental health center. Love puddles!

By: NewYorker1 on 11/22/11 at 1:50

Jughead, don't you have some black people you pretend to be cool with that you can stab in the back instead of getting on my last nerve?

By: Jughead on 11/22/11 at 2:54

@NewYorker: Tssk, tssk, Yorkie. They are "African Americans", doncha know. Your ACLU/OCCUPY STUPID friends would be disappointed with your complete lack of sensitivity.

BTW, Yorktard, I AM BLACK. I repeat: go sit in the corner and try to matter. Not all of us buy into the liberal brain washing. Some of us kinda like taking care of ourselves--unlike your Occupy Freeloader pals.

By: NewYorker1 on 11/22/11 at 3:01

"Some of us kinda like taking care of ourselves", dude, I own my own business. I'm in the music industry and expanding my brand in Nashville and once my business can operate without my being here, I'm heading back to NYC. I own a home in Green Hills. I have two degrees and very financially secure. My dad is a surgeon in NYC and my mom own her own business as well. Need I say more?

By: PillowTalk4 on 11/22/11 at 3:35

Well, I'm glad there's no shooting that can take place via online. And, you guys think this solves something? You just proved that culturally there are so many things that have gone wrong in this country. Civility is certainly one of them. Until we start placing more emphasis on community, family and working together things will only get worse.

By: Nitzche on 11/23/11 at 8:27


By: consultmlcesq on 11/24/11 at 9:45

My son made a noteworthy observation. Since the event is open to the public and large groups of even families attend from across the nation, it is impossible to screen even those who look like thugs. The event is held in a part of town where it is not uncommon for shootings to occur - not because of TSU, or Fisk, or Meharry - but in spite of those institutions. After all, there is gang activity all over that neighborhood, and all around TSU, so that TSU has had to beef up its security - to my relief. It is unrealistic to expect that gangbangers and criminals would not sieze the opportunity to do what they normally do, having the opportunity to do it in such greater proportions. I once observed a thief going from car to car at a Jazz and Blues Festival on Jefferson Street, trying every door in the hopes of finding one unlocked. I did report it to the first police officer that I saw. It was not the fault of the organizers of the festival that patrons were violated. They took a risk by being in a place where such criminals might sieze the opportunity to do what they normally do. Police were everywhere at TSU, especially at that intersection. Having been at that Wendy's only 30 minutes earlier, before electing to buy food from a parade vendor, I empathize with the two victims. I regret that this happened, wish them a speedy recovery and pray that a witness will surface to identify the shooter. Nonetheless, I would hate to see them re-route the event because of one hoodlum / thug, since chances are that he would have shot someone, somewhere, even if the event had not occurred. The site itself is historic and carries great significance in the community; and the event is a great commercial opportunity for many merchants and vendors, for whom that day is their Black Friday. Perhaps, the merchants should join together and install an external surveillance system, to enhance everyone's security along Jefferson Street. Certainly, Wendy's is well overdue.

By: echoman426 on 11/24/11 at 9:47

It is not a black/white or racial issue at all. Unfortunately, it seems the police made it into one as they often do. There is no way the police should have been waiting at the Sheraton except maybe for regular security. The events should have gone as planned with no curtailment at all. The history and rich tradition of TSU should be applauded and built upon for the entire state and region. Expand the event! Help it to grow! Never give in to the thugs. The police can be visible to support the folks celebrating the rich tradition of TSU!

Let's all work together to grow the event for the benefit of all. It is way past time that we all work together and combine our hearts and minds to grow in a synergistic fashion. Let's build on the great strengths of TSU. There are so many positives on which to build. May we all grow together for the benefit of all.