As a digital news site, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism takes every opportunity to use all our online channels to share information to help Memphians thrive.
For instance, last week reporter Brittany Brown tweeted from the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission meeting in which they shared an update to the new five-year Safe Community Action Plan. The meeting’s focus: Law enforcement resources, gun crime and domestic violence.
As it turns out, October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and so, hearing what members of the commission said about that particular scourge feels timely. And it wasn’t good.
Panelist and Domestic Violence Court Judge Greg Gilbert called domestic violence a “norm” in Memphis. He said he saw 200 cases last week alone. This year, from January to June, there were 589 reported incidents of domestic violence aggravated assaults involving guns in Memphis; up dramatically from 280 in 2016, on par with 2021’s 602.
Gilbert said children are the forgotten victims of domestic violence incidents; they witness and internalize the violence in the place where they should feel safest—at home. “If we can prevent kids from seeing violence, maybe we won’t see so much violence in the community,” he said.
Memphis Assistant Police Chief Shawn Jones said there have been 9,000 incidents of domestic violence in Memphis this year. He added how much the city and the department need more efforts around conflict resolution.
As I read Brittany’s thread, it became clear how domestic violence, along with the availability of guns, weaves into the other issues the commission is tackling. Jones brought up a direct tie; he said a lot of crime in Memphis is youth violence. It would be interesting to know how many of those children come from homes where they’ve seen the kind of incidents that show up in Gilbert’s court.
Less obvious is this: Both the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office and the Memphis Police Department are hiring. But would they need more correction officers and police officers if more resources were put toward preventing domestic violence, protecting children who might be exposed to it and thus limiting a host of other crimes?
Domestic violence can involve many harms: murder, kidnapping, rape, incest, assault, intimidation, stalking, among them. It clearly requires deep and sustained efforts to curb.
I recently had the chance to see a conversation with Bryan Stevenson, the director of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the bestselling book, Just Mercy. As usual, he said something that will stay with me. Stevenson talked about how politicians and police often treat crime as something that can be resolved by locking it up. But of course, he pointed out, crimes aren’t locked up, people are. And people, he said, aren’t crimes.
I believe that some of the crime commission members understand that. They spoke of root causes, intervention, deterrence and outreach. But something – reluctance, an inability or a lack of commitment – seems to prevent them from going all in. At some point, we have to look at this big thing, whether we call it “violence” or “safety” and break it into smaller parts and keep at one of the small parts, apply the money it really requires, measure results and learn from failures.
And, as the update aimed to do, share that information with the public. In person, in emails or even with tweets.
Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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