Uncontrollable anger and a gun take another life as tone-deaf Esporta gym re-opens the following day
Father and daughter

23-year-old Tabias Cunningham holding his daughter. 

Earlier this week 23-year-old Tabias Cunningham was shot and killed on an indoor basketball court on the Far West side. Recent events on this gym’s court strongly suggest Cunningham was killed over a meaningless game.

Another terrible reality is a 10-month-old child will be raised without their father and a mother will spend the rest of her life wondering why this happened to her son. Also soul-numbing is the fact the gym – Esporta Fitness, a lower-cost membership brand of LA Fitness – re-opened the very next day. They did close the court, as were the rest of their courts across Central Ohio.

Re-opening of the gym hours after a human being was murdered within its walls tells us how desensitized and apathetic we’ve become to gun violence.

Just a week prior, a friend of the Free Press had broken up a fight on that very basketball court. The source said they “yelled and begged for peace.” An hour later this same group of players were amicable and still playing basketball. The source’s effort to de-escalate worked on this night.

But roughly a month ago, two ultra-competitive players, after arguing over who-fouled-who while incessantly trash talking to each other, squared off with their fists, said the same source. One of the young men was punched so hard he vomited.

The source said the gym, located amongst Hilliard-Rome Road’s endless strip malls, is popular with the area’s young people desperate for something to do during the gloomy Central Ohio winter. Mostly 20-somethings, they are a diverse working-class mix. Struggling with rising housing costs. Their jobs more demanding due to labor shortages. Now mix this with the anxiety of surging crime.

There’s no denying this increasing violence since 2020 has rattled the community. In 2020 Columbus broke its homicide record with 175 deaths. In 2021, a record broke again with 204 homicides – 91 percent of whom were shot. In 2022 a significant drop – 139 homicides with 121 due to guns. The Gun Violence Archive reports nearly 70 Columbus teenagers (12 to 17) were either wounded or killed by gunfire in 2022.

Curbing the violence has arguably become the community’s greatest challenge. This goes without saying. This plea an endless skipping record.

Before the pandemic our young people were dealing with increasing stress affecting their mental health. It’s only gotten worse. Parallel to this is the absurd belief (or a symbol of status?) that everyone should have a gun on-person at all times. Recently, we were told an African-American officeholder at the Statehouse was telling constituents you should consider arming yourselves, in part, to the threat of white supremacist active shooters.

Terribly, angry white active shooters are a real concern. But a greater threat are the guns flooding the community. The dilapidated former Westland Mall is still hosting a regular gun bazaar, which no doubt has led to “straw sales” in the community.

Also alarming and revealing is what activist Cynthia Brown has told us about our young people. Brown is seeking to end Qualified Immunity for police and other government workers in Ohio.

“If the police can kill and get away with it, ‘than so can I.’ That’s what our youth are saying,” Brown told the Free Press.

The Free Press has several friends who work with at-risk youth. This is what they tell us: The so-called “culture” – with all its false promises, twisted glorification, and demands for expensive things and cars – has driven teens to steal cars and join drug-pushing gangs so to make easy and large money.

Here’s another concern for young people and the Free Press, which has promoted medical marijuana since paper’s inception over 50 years ago: Is easy access to more potent THC to blame in part for surging violence among young people? The evidence is mounting.

And don’t get it twisted about who these young people are. Two years ago the Free Press spoke with a 14-year-old white member of the “MBKs” (My Brothers Keepers of the Hilltop) who was robbing people in the Short North with a silencer on a gun.

We asked local anti-violence activist Sean Stevenson about this and the murder at Esporta Fitness.

“It says so much. Because it all starts at home, the environment which they live in and are grown from,” he said.

Another local anti-violence advocate, Thell Robinson, the founder and CEO of Halt Violence, has told us that more “street mentors” [civilians] are needed to “squash beef” among the gang cliques and their families.

“We are going into the trenches and engaging with shooters. We are engaging in hot spots where the violence is taking place and engaging with individuals who are shooters or possibly can be shooters and discussing non-violent alternatives,” said Robinson.

“Beef” can best be described as those seeking vengeance. While no definitive proof, a significant number of Columbus homicides (and beyond) are due to drugs, but also cliques or families going back and forth.

Past the Hilltop on West Broad and tucked away next to a Waterbeds‘n’Stuff is an aging Kroger that is never not busy. Back in January an African-American security guard tried to apprehend a shoplifter. The altercation resulted in the shoplifter’s boyfriend returning to confront the security guard and the security guard ended up shooting and killing the boyfriend.

How serious and concerning is the revenge cycle?

An African-American cashier at this Kroger had to quit her job after the boyfriend’s family threatened violence against her. The cashier and the boyfriend’s family are believed to have no prior connection before the shooting.

Everyone wants a solution to the violence (another skipping record). This week the Free Press covered the first local candidate forum for this November’s election. City Council candidate Luis Gil of the Westside, who’s political persuasion leans right, offered another idea to help. And all help is welcome.

“The fact of the matter is crime continues to climb up. Not necessarily homicide,” said Gil who’s Latino. “[And] those committing the crime are getting younger and younger.”

He continued, “There are many kids who need guidance. The fact of the matter is, where are the parents? Maybe they need better jobs. Well, we have an opportunity right now in this area when Intel comes. We need to make sure we take advantage this for the next generation.”