Memphis’ homicide rate in 2020 peaked at a record 332 killings, the dizzying rate of gun violence has continued and three minor children are hospitalized from shootings this past Thursday.
“Too many of these senseless killings involve minors,” Pastor Bill Adkins said at a Friday afternoon press conference. “Little Jordan Washington, the grand-niece of one of my members, was shot and killed in her kitchen while she was helping her mother prepare dinner, struck by a stray bullet.
“Why are we not angry?”
Adkins, pastor of Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith in the Frayser community, spearheaded a press conference in front of the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, surrounded by other ministers of like sentiment. He noted that the 76 homicides recorded in 2021 included 63 murders. Isolating for those under 18, the homicide total includes six in that category.
Reading a statement, Adkins called for anger about the city’s murder rate and “righteous indignation” about “all of this killing.”
“Citizens are sleeping on their floors and in their bathtubs because they are afraid of all the gunfire,” Adkins said. “Our seniors can’t even walk to the store for a loaf of bread. People are falling asleep, not to the sound of raindrops hitting the roof, but the sound of gunfire.
“Why aren’t we angry?”
Adkins said people are being struck down by “wild west type shootings” on the streets and on the interstates.
In addition to more than 330 killings last year, Adkins cited other disturbing statistics, including: 80 interstate shootings, more than 2,500 wounded by gunfire and over 12,000 arrests for aggravated assault.
Lt. Karen Rudolph, spokesperson for the Memphis Police Department, sounded an alarm last month, detailing that last year in February there were 29 murders, with this year’s total exceeding that figure by 17.
In a 24-hour period, seven people were killed by gun violence only weeks ago. It was the very same weekend that more than 500 people took to the streets to protest against gun violence in a “Stop The Violence” rally and march.
The delegation of pastors are angry, and said the “Black community” should be, too.
“Why aren’t we as angry about the shootings of little children in Memphis as we are about Breonna Taylor in Kentucky,” Adkins said.
“We become so angry about police brutality, and we should, but we should also be angry about the senseless murder, the homicides and the stray bullets that fly in our community, striking people down.”
Adkins referenced the Bible to urge “righteous indignation” and a “holy anger against this sin.”
“We must be angry enough to speak out,” Adkins said. “We must be willing to testify, to turn people in. It’s not snitching, it’s saving. We must be willing to rid our community of the culture of violence that has taken hold.”
The solution is multi-faceted, according to Adkins. He said the “African-American community must first acknowledge that we have a problem.”
“What are we going to do? Adkins asked. “We have been guilty of silence, we have been guilty of acceptance of the crime that is in our midst. We must take action. We need summer jobs for these young people. We’ve got to help the parents. We’ve got to teach the parents how to be good parents and how to be responsible for their children.”
Adkins, who said he is asking churches to get involved, also said, “We need town hall meetings and honest discussion, more community policing, more police substations, and more sub-substations.”
Declaring that he doesn’t have all the answers, Adkins said he is “willing to work with anyone that does.” He called “crazy” recently passed legislation allowing more people to carry guns.
As Memphis works through the process of selecting a new police chief, Adkins said the choice is going to be critical to reducing gun violence.
“The new police chief is going to have to be half sociologist and half police officer,” said Adkins. “He or she is going to have to be someone who cares, someone who understands, someone who is willing to lead and change police tactics for the 21st century.”
Adkins, who sits on the commission presently screening viable candidates for police chief, said he has seen a “couple of promising candidates,” but declined to elaborate further.