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VOL. 10 | NO. 21 | Saturday, May 20, 2017

Editorial: Addressing Memphis' Most Important Crime Issue

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If Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings could snap his fingers and suddenly have a police force of 2,500 officers, that in and of itself probably wouldn’t have stopped what happened the night of May 12 in Midtown or a day later in Whitehaven.

A man described later by his family as bipolar and obsessed with stalking and harming a former girlfriend – whom he had attacked at least twice since August and vowed to kill more times than that – doused himself with kerosene outside the bar where she was working, set himself on fire and got inside despite efforts by her and others to bar the door.

That same weekend, two men at a restaurant in Whitehaven intervened when they saw a third man choking a woman who worked at the restaurant. Both Good Samaritans were shot, and one died.

Memphis does indeed have a problem with violent crime.

Along with a record-high 228 homicides in 2016, Memphis logged 2,574 domestic violence complaints per 100,000 residents, according to year-end data from the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission. That comes out to just about 17,000 incidents of domestic violence in a city of about 656,000 people. And those are just the incidents that are reported to police.

Only one violent crime category resulted in more reports: simple assault, with 2,713 per 100,000 population.

Domestic violence doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Physical, verbal and emotional abuse start with problematic attitudes within a relationship. And though many of us would like to look the other way, especially when we see those attitudes manifest in a friend or family member, the reality is that indifference paves the path to one of the most common forms of violence in our city.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to domestic violence.

Jared McLemore, the man who set himself on fire and died, needed help. But anger management, mental health counseling – even jail time – won’t completely fix this.

Alyssa Moore, the woman he was terrorizing, needed protection. But a larger police presence and court protective orders won’t totally fix it either, though that doesn’t let officers and judges off the hook for an inadequate response.

And Devin Wilson, a military police officer who served in Iraq, then came home only to die in an IHOP while trying to save a life in danger, shouldn’t have had to risk his life to do the right thing. Yet that is the magnitude of the problem we’re facing.

Our discussion about domestic violence must include more than procedures and statistics. As a city, we need to talk about how average citizens can make a difference without becoming victims themselves.

Changing society’s attitudes about this form of violence starts with individuals examining long-held beliefs about relationships and the fear that can define the roles within them.

We have to stop ignoring what we see and start understanding this isn’t a numbers game. Each of us has a role to play in diminishing violent attitudes before they progress into action.

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