The latest in a series of gun violence community meetings generated more fodder for the pot in which the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission is mixing up its five-year strategic plan on crime.
Held Thursday evening at Riverside Missionary Baptist Church on South Third St., the meeting resembled two previous sessions, with the discernible difference being the expressed levels of concern about ongoing issues: the dramatic rise in gun violence, carjackings and other crimes involving firearms.
Several speakers suggested to panel members that they should sit in the audience while community leaders sit on the platform and tell them what is needed.
“Many of us are leaders of community organizations,” one speaker said. “We’re out here in our communities. We know what we need in our own communities. Maybe it’s time for you all to listen to us.”
The backdrop included 270-plus homicides this year, with Wednesday afternoon’s gun down of Adolph Robert Thornton Jr., better known as Memphis rapper Young Dolph, having delivered a fresh wound to the community’s collective psyche.
No arrests have been made in the killing of Young Dolph in front of Makeda’s Homemade “Butter Cookies” on Airways. A surveillance video released by the Memphis Police Department (MPD) chillingly shows the shooters carrying out the ambush.
One panelist expressed a fear of retaliation for the fatal shooting of Dolph. Police have said there is no evidence that a shooting next door the next day was related to his killing. Three people have been arrested in connection with that criminal act.
Gun violence claimed the life of Erika Kelley’s son in 2016. At Thursday’s meeting, Kelley, a member of Moms Demand Action, said, “That call telling you that your child has been killed is a pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. …
“We feel the anger and frustration more today because of Young Dolph. But so many families are experiencing that same pain. Every day, there are more shootings, more gun deaths. We are all just tired of it.”
MPD Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis again spoke to the goal of adding 300 police officers in two years and touted a new crime-fighting unit dubbed SCORPION (Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods.)
The 40-officer unit began work on Nov. 11. Mayor Jim Strickland has said SCORPION is designed to address violent crimes such as homicides, aggravated assaults, robberies and carjackings occurring throughout the city, as well as motor vehicle thefts, theft from motor vehicles and other felony offenses.
“Twenty percent of the people are committing 80 percent of the crime in Memphis,” Davis said. “What we’ve got to do is crack down on that 20 percent. We are going to concentrate more patrols and increase police presence in certain areas of the city.”
Bonner repeated his assertion that gun provisions recently signed into law amounted to a recipe for higher gun violence when people use firearms to resolve conflict.
“At Tuesday’s meeting, a gentleman in the audience suggested that conflict resolution should be taught to children, K-12,” Bonner said. “I would like to explore that concept because I think it is a great suggestion.”
Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich detailed the use of “focused deterrents” to fight juvenile crime.
“When we transfer juveniles to adult court, it is to have a longer time to work with that individual and get them on the right path,” said Weirich. “When a person turns 19, they are out of juvenile court. When a 16- or 17 year old is transferred to adult court, we have a longer time to focus our resources on them.”
Weirich said presently 25 juveniles are being tried as adults. The youngest is 14, charged with murder. Three are facing first-degree murder charges; several more are facing second-degree murder charges. Seventeen of those juveniles are accused of using a firearm in the commission of a crime.
Acting U.S Attorney Joe Murphy said minors as young as 13 are committing carjackings.
“We are finding that these juveniles are more violent than adults,” said Murphy.
“We have made 742 arrests for drag racing. Even if the charges don’t stick, we come and take their cars from them, and inconvenience them a little as a deterrent.”
Davis said many of the carjackings are spurred by the intent to commit a crime.
“They carjack a vehicle and then commit a crime,” she said. “The vehicle is then ditched somewhere.”
Dr. Bruce Randolph, medical officer for the Shelby County Health Department, addressed the preponderance of crime as it relates to African Americans.
“We need to ask ourselves, ‘What is it that other communities are doing that we are not doing in the Black community?’” Randolph said. “Collierville has five murders for every 100,000. South Memphis has 128 for every 100,000. There is something we are missing in our community. …
“To our white brothers and sisters, to Asians, and even to our Hispanic community, what’s the secret?” Randolph asked. “What are you doing in your community that we are not doing?”
Randolph proposed “a total person solution because the battle is with a person’s heart, mind and spirit. … Resources for empowerment programs must be directed to churches, community centers and in our homes.”
Meanwhile, anyone with information on the murder of Young Dolph should call CrimeStoppers at: 901-528-CASH (2274).