Time For a Change at the Fairgrounds Lot

When a tailgate turns into a murder scene, something is definitely wrong with the party. Such is the case with the Fairgrounds lot on Trinity Road.

Two young men, one a Marine officer, were shot to death in broad daylight on the Fairgrounds lot Saturday as the Wolfpack kicked off against Richmond. While the full facts await a court of law, this tragedy is in part the result of a tailgating area that is less a celebration of Wolfpack football than a gathering of the drunk, the classless, and the trashy.

The trashy, both literally and figuratively: touring the Fairgrounds lot after a game is a stomach-turning experience. Literal heaps of bottles, cans, cups and food cover the grounds, the result of slobs casting their garbage aside for others to pick up. The contrast with the rest of Carter-Finley's tailgating areas, where fans generally clean up after themselves, is telling. The Fairgrounds lot, used by many visiting fans, leaves an image of the university that couldn't be more embarrassing – and that's on days when people don't get shot.

And far too many of the worst offenders appear to be current State students. Students aren't solely to blame here, nor is today's student body somehow worse, in terms of drunken behavior, than when I graduated in 1991. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I've over-indulged myself while tailgating. Expecting the current crop to do otherwise is hypocritical and unrealistic.

But even on my worst day, I didn't leave foot-deep and yards-wide piles of trash for others to clean up. I didn't drive recklessly through crowded parking lots, or strut around bare-chested and looking for a fight. And I sure as hell didn't beat, shoot, or kill anyone. Yet I witnessed, or was close to (the shootings occurred within 50 yards of our tailgate spot) each of those things in the Fairgrounds parking lot this weekend.

One hopes that tailgaters, student and otherwise, in the Fairgrounds lot would have sufficient respect, both for themselves and for N.C. State, to police themselves. Since that's not the case, the authorities, and those who do care about our university, must step in. What to do?

First, no one, student or otherwise, should be admitted to the Fairgrounds lot without a game ticket. Yes, some people like to purchase tickets at the game, but look: If one can find a date, buy 75 gallons of beer, purchase a Tailgate Special from Bojangles, and hoist an old couch into the back of Daddy's Dodge Ram, one's smart enough to buy a game ticket. The Aggie-Eagle Classic instituted a "no ticket – no tailgate" rule this year, and it makes good sense. Without a ticket, you have no business tailgating around the stadium anyway. And please don't yap about the Fairgrounds area being a "public" lot where one has some "right" to be staggering drunk and trash the place. I've read the federal and North Carolina constitutions many times, and have yet to find anything like:
"It being fundamental to ordered liberty, the right to be an obnoxious, truculent, trash-throwing drunk must and shall be preserved."

Sorry: This is indeed public land, and the authorities have the right and the responsibility to control this kind of behavior – behavior that in its extreme form put N.C. State on the national front page– not for victory over Richmond, but for murder.

A second step: charge a modest parking fee. If one has $50 to buy beer, one can pay $5 to park at the Fairgrounds lot. This would help pay for cleaning up the place after the game is over, and, like the $1 cover charge at the Boar's Nest on the old "Dukes of Hazzard" TV show, would help "keep out the riffraff" – yahoos showing up with an eye not for football, but for trouble.

Finally, increased police presence is a must. We don't need officers scouring the aisles in Barney Fife fashion, harassing everyone with beer in hand. Rather, we need authorities cracking down on those who ruin the Fairgrounds lot for everyone else. Leave a big pile of trash in your space? Get a littering ticket – and a court appearance and fine. Be a truculent drunk? The drunk is thrown out, with a summons for disorderly conduct – and again an accompanying court appearance – to speed him on his way. Block traffic or drive dangerously through the lot? Same result. Do this a few times, and it won't take long before there's a change in behavior. Do the police have better things to do? Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani helped turn New York City from a cesspool into a comparative Disney World by cracking down on the kind of "public order" crimes present in the Fairgrounds lot. Those carping that the NYPD had "better things to do" than arrest people for turnstile-jumping and disorderly conduct changed their tune when it became clear that such arrests encouraged the law-abiding and disheartened the criminal element. The result was decreased crime and better living conditions. This would also be the case with the Fairgrounds lot.

N.C. State, in a statement released Sunday, noted that it doesn't own the Fairgrounds lot. The State of North Carolina, however, does. It's incumbent on both institutions to work with law enforcement and improve conditions on the lot. Adopting the policies above is a good start.

Of perhaps equal importance is what not to do. Saturday's tragedy may prompt calls for banning alcohol in the stadium area and other police-state "solutions" that only punish the many for the sins of the comparative few. Banning alcohol would do exactly that, as most tailgaters drink responsibly and without ruining the game for others. The same holds true for the convoluted, and mostly non-productive, "alcohol rules" seen at other events – no coolers, no glass, and the like – which confuse lawful fans and are cheerfully ignored by the lawless.

No, the proper action here is against what's causing the problem, and the problem isn't caused by Budweiser or Coors. It's irresponsible and stupid people acting irresponsible and stupid – and these game-day skells, not the law-abiding majority, are whom the authorities should target.

Could Saturday's tragedy happen in a tailgate area where slobs and drunks are controlled? Certainly, but it's much less likely. As in the New York example, an environment where this behavior is checked is less likely to erupt in serious crime than one where drunks and alcohol-fueled thugs set the tone. And at the least, all Wolfpack fans will enjoy a better tailgating experience. The Fairgrounds lot is changed from a local embarrassment to a nationally circulated disgrace. Two young men are dead, and two others, one a reported N.C. State student, allegedly caused their deaths. If some tailgaters refuse to recognize that controlling alcohol consumption and cleaning up after oneself is the act of a gentleman, and not a "girlie man," then responsible Wolfpack fans, and law enforcement, must show them otherwise.

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