The recent slaying of yet another child in Memphis this year sparked a call to action by a local clergyman and community advocates.
Brandon Fleming, 17, was fatally shot Sunday (Aug. 16). He is among the 24 children killed by gun violence in Memphis this year, according to police, compared to 14 children last year.
“The news was so devastating; the burden was just too great. I had to do something,” said Dr. Kevin Brooks, Providence AME Church Social Justice Minister.
Fleming’s death was one of nine homicides recorded between last Friday (Aug. 14) and Monday, and one of 173 homicides in Memphis this year. Last year at this time, the homicide count was 111.
The weekend also yielded numerous aggravated woundings. The assault victims included Elijah Mitchell Lewis, the oldest son of Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, the Grammy-winning engineer and producer, who runs South Memphis’s historic Royal Studios, the music recording facility tied to Hi Records and the legendary Willie Mitchell.
Lewis was shot and critically wounded Saturday in Cordova. Glenn Smith, 32, has been charged with aggravated burglary, attempted second-degree murder, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a dangerous felony in connection with the shooting, according to Shelby County court records.
Fleming’s slaying moved Brooks and a handful of others to rally against violence on Memphis’ streets Monday (Aug. 17).
Like many of his peers, Fleming was not only excited about going into his senior year at Booker T. Washington High School, but he had signed up for the Black Male Achievement program, an after-school and Saturday mentoring initiative for males aged 8-21.
Science was his favorite subject, and Fleming had high hopes of playing basketball as a senior.
“Brandon was kind of a quiet guy,” said Ladazier Mathis, 18, Brandon’s sister. “He played a lot of basketball. We have a basketball goal at home. He had a best friend, but he really didn’t talk to me about any girlfriends.”
Although few in number, marchers called out Brandon’s name as they proceeded from Booker T. Washington High School to Boyd Street, where Fleming died.
“Mario called and told me that Brandon Fleming, one of our young men participating in Black Male Achievement, was killed Sunday,” Brooks recalled, referencing Mario Byers, a former Boys and Girls Club director, who worked with Fleming and other boys growing up in that community.
“The sense of apathy and a ‘life goes on’ attitude elicited a response in me that compelled me to do something,” said Brooks. “So, I called for a march on Monday evening — 100 men and women, anyone who believes that black lives do matter.”
Byers said it was heartbreaking to find out that Fleming had been killed.
“The Boys and Girls Club was closed in this community because of the violence, the poverty and the crime. But these are children who need that club the most.
“Closing it in this community was not the right move. Our elected officials and others in leadership should reinvest in this community.”
Brooks said the pandemic most detrimental to the African-American community is the “pandemic of violence.”
According to police, no witnesses have come forward with information on Fleming’s death.
“We are losing our humanity because it’s business as usual when there is a new murder victim,” Brooks said. “We need to say his name – Brandon Fleming.
“He mattered. His life mattered. His mother is distraught. His sister is distraught. We have become so used to murder that we are desensitized to it.”
First responder Malcolm Robinson, who is both a firefighter and a registered nurse, said young people need to know that their community cares about them.
“I felt it was important to be there (at the march/rally) because I have a son, I have nephews,” said Robinson. “There are all these other black, young people who look like me. They are reflections of me. I feel it is my duty, both on and off the job, to show up in the communities we serve, and to make myself available.”
Deke Pope, 78, marched with Brooks and other residents and supporters. He helped to organize one of the first Black Student Associations at Memphis State University (now, the University of Memphis).
“As an elder in the community, as a father, a husband, and long-standing resident of Memphis, I felt it was important to be there at the march Monday to support Rev. Brooks and to show that we are concerned about our young people,” said Pope.
“They are our children, and we want to show them that there is a way out of poverty and these dire circumstances. I came from meager beginnings, myself.”
In the Mitchell shooting, police found Mitchell after responding to a shooting at a residence at 1510 Beaver Trail Drive in Cordova. It belongs to Samantha Wilson, who was Lewis’ girlfriend, according to a Memphis Police Department affidavit attributing the assertion.
In a Monday (Aug. 16) social media post, Boo Mitchell wrote:
“This is the most difficult thing for me to post. Please excuse me if I’m a little scattered. Yesterday our oldest son Elijah Mitchell (Elijah Lewis) was taken to Regional One Health for a gun shot wound to the back, broken ribs and other injuries.
“Suspect, his girlfriend’s ex lover, broke in her house and waited for him, shot him in the back then beat him after he was down. His front teeth were all beaten out.
“Unfortunately the bullet went through his spinal cord and he has lost all of the feeling in his legs. Suspect has been arrested and is in custody. We are grateful and thankful that Elijah is alive. We have a lot of work ahead of us.
“This is the most devastating (thing) that has ever happened to me or my family. We are thankful for the amazing team of doctors and nurses at Regional One Health; they have been nothing less than angels through this. Please keep Elijah and my family in your thoughts and prayers. We know that God is in charge and we are praying and hopeful that one day he will fully recover.”
Elijah Mitchell was carrying on the family music tradition by working as an engineer at Royal.