A town hall meeting on crime and gun reform Tuesday (May 9) night gave community residents an opportunity to share their concerns with elected officials.
“I wanted our constituents to understand what we are up against in Nashville with some of the crazy gun measures being proposed,” said State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, the event’s organizer.
Parkinson added, “But mental health and crime were on many peoples’ minds. They had a chance to speak out, and we needed to hear some things.”
Sharon “Mama Dee” Mourning made her feelings known when she asked, “So, ask for more money, and then what? We’re trying to get more money, and for what? What about all the millions and millions of dollars we’ve gotten in grants for mental health, and nothing ever changes.
“Instead of trying to get something new, fund what we already have in place. Make sure those facilities have the money to treat our loved ones.”
Mourning is the organizer of “Ride of Tears,” a nonprofit that arranges a symbolic, rolling memorial with a hearse and vehicles following through a neighborhood, where a child has been killed by a stray bullet.
Mourning was among the nearly 200 attendees at the Breath of Life Christian Center in Raleigh determined to have their say.
“We’ve been getting grants and funding over the years,” Mourning said. “So where is the money going? Year after year, we’ll just keep asking for more and more. But nothing changes.
“I took my son into a facility, and they told me they were going to send him back home in a cab. They could clearly see he was a danger to himself and to others. We don’t know what else to do when they won’t keep them for treatment. It’s frustrating”
Mourning’s son is a recovering heroin addict. But the memory of him being turned away when he was in crisis still makes her angry.
Parkinson hosted elected officials representing his district, which is includes a portion of northwest Shelby County and a large swatch of Frayser and Raleigh, including Shelby County Commissioner Charlie Caswell Jr., Memphis-Shelby County Schools Board Commissioner Stephanie Love, and Memphis City Councilwomen Rhonda Logan and Michalyn Easter-Thomas.
Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis also joined the panel.
“Mental health is a great concern,” said Davis. “Also, we hear the same thing over and over, that there are not enough activities for our children. And we aren’t just talking about during the day.
“After 4 or 5 o’clock, children have no structure in the evening. When we pick up gangs of roving children stealing cars and committing other crimes in a group, they are just having fun.
“I know that sounds unbelievable, but they are taking joy rides and having fun. We need activities which provide structure 24-hours a day.”
Davis said city leaders need to push for more funding in the budget to fund more initiatives to keep children and teens engaged in positive and productive activities that keep them from committing crimes.
Panelists, as well as audience members, acknowledged mental health is a major component of youth crime.
Shelby County Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon was asked to join the panel by Parkinson as he sat in the audience.
“When children come to Juvenile Court, there is no question that many of them are dealing with various mental health conditions,” said Sugarmon. “Not only do many of these children have previous diagnoses, they have been adversely affected by serious trauma situations. They need to be treated for these emotional, psychological, and mental health issues. They are committing serious crimes.”
Parkinson said the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislators (TBCSL) has secured for Memphis and Shelby County $500,000 to deal with mental health issues this year. They brought the same amount for mental health aid last year.
“That is $1 million we’ve brought here for mental health,” said Parkinson. “We’re fighting for an expansion of Medicaid for preventative mental health care on a state level.
“Mental health must be addressed along with gun reform. When the county commission challenges these state gun laws in court, that’s a good thing — a great strategy.”
Another community resident said she wanted a sky cam installed near her home. A stretch of road that drivers take too fast is a huge problem. Recently, a woman drove up into her house.
“The woman died right there on my lawn,” the woman said. “And if it had not been for the Lord on our side, my daughter and I would be dead, too.”
Davis said MPD would perform an analysis immediately to get a sky cam up in that area because someone “dying on the lawn is pretty serious.”
Davis also encouraged those who could do so to have ring cameras installed. Video from ring cameras on private homes have helped to solve many serious crimes which had no witnesses or reluctant witnesses.
Parkinson said he wants action and change after hearing from constituents in the community.
“These elected officials who joined us really care about their constituents,” said Parkinson, following the event. “Trust and credibility are qualities that we want to maintain and build among those we represent.
“We heard them, and we continue to hear them. (They want) more activities for youth, mental health, and trauma-informed treatment, where needed. We are listening, and armed with what we have heard, we plan to take action.”