- (female announcer) Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by the WKNO Production Fund, the WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you, thank you.
- Another look at crime, policing and criminal justice in Memphis tonight on Behind the Headlines.
[intense orchestral music] I'm Eric Barnes with The Daily Memphian.
Thanks for joining us.
I am joined tonight by the Reverend Ayanna Watkins, executive Director of MICAH, thanks for being here again.
- Thank you.
- Josh Spickler is Executive Director of Just City.
Thanks for being here again.
- Thanks, Eric.
- Tikeila Rucker is a political organizer with Memphis for All, thanks for being here.
- Thank you.
- Along with Julia Baker, who covers criminal justice for The Daily Memphian.
We had a show a couple weeks ago with Bill Gibbons, former DA now head of Memphis Crime Commission.
He was head of the State Department of Safety, along with Buddy Chapman who runs or ran Crime Stoppers and former police director.
But we wanna get other perspectives and there's a whole range of perspectives on crime, criminal justice, what's going on, changes that are happening.
But I'll start with Ayanna.
Is there a crime problem in Memphis?
- I think that's an easy question.
Yes, there is a crime problem.
I moved here from Chicago, there's a crime problem there.
Wherever they're humans, there are crime problems.
What I think a better question is, are we on a track towards wholeness, healing and healthy communities?
And that I think we can do a lot to get better and more on track about.
- And is that to do that for its own sake, that is to do that to try to reduce crime that is, you know, in the context of crime.
- Right, a lot of what, the work that we do, we see that desperation is at the heart of a lot of behavior that we'd like to do away with.
And so if we can attack the desperation, and again, not having jobs, not having the healthcare you need, not being able to get to school or not being able to get the education you need.
If we can attack those places, then people don't have to get desperate and make poor decisions.
People don't have to be at the subject of systems that are trying to hold them in place or in a bad place and make decisions they would not otherwise make.
- Let me go to you, same question to you Josh.
Is there a crime problem?
Is crime, I mean, we may have talked a bit with our, some of the crime coverage we did lately, is there a crime problem and is crime on the rise?
- We're talking about crime problems or trends and statistics is not simple.
And referring to upticks that are quarter to quarter or year to year is not recommended.
Most people who study crime over the long term will warn against talking about rises in crime year to year.
It's good to look at trends.
And if you look at trends, Memphis is near the bottom actually, of all time levels of crime, both with youth and with adults.
And so, have we seen upticks recently?
Yes, but those are very short term upticks and I think we should be very careful not to create a hysteria where there shouldn't be one.
A crime, as Ayanna said, is always going to be a problem where they're humans and any one person who is a victim, any harm that happens in our community, we should have systems to respond to that.
But the way we do it is to look toward restoration and holistic treatment of the problem.
- And we'll come back to all this, but I wanna get you and Tikeila, talk about your work in relationship to crime and your perspective of you yourself and the work that Memphis for All does.
Is there a crime problem?
Is crime on the rise, et cetera?
- I wouldn't say that it's a crime problem.
I would say there's a narrative that crime is a issue.
The problem is there is a lack of resources and there are a lack of things available in the community for our youth to get involved in, or jobs that pay adequate funding.
So, people are in survival mode.
And so what we do at Memphis for All is we focus on issues and raise awareness in the community on how we can build a better Memphis.
Like what can elected officials do to move us in a direction that's more progressive and not tend to focus on that narrative that is crime.
It's poor leadership.
- But let me bring in Julia Baker.
- Josh, you were talking about crime stats.
You recently as Just City director, you recently launched a public data accountability project and you wrote a letter to Mayor Strickland offering your help with that after a letter he wrote about, you know, judgment orders and bail setting orders not being available online.
So, for one, have you heard back from him about that?
And two, you know, what other kind of data can we expect to see in that?
- Sure, we have not heard back from the city, the description was about being able to see orders correct when judges set bail and to be able to comment on them, which I thought was interesting.
So I'm not sure whether this is about data or whether this is about the public's ability to comment on decisions that judges are making.
But at Just City we do have the ability to measure those outcomes and to report out to the public what is actually happening in this criminal legal system.
Those are, that is information that we've been able to get for a long time and have begun with our Public Data Accountability project to share it with media outlets who have asked us to support that.
In the wake of the Tyre Nichols situation, we provided a lot of police affidavit data to large media outlets from all across the country, because it's important to understand how we are responding to crime when we respond and at Just City I think we have provided a lot of really deep information to a lot of people, advocates, like at this table and media outlets about how we've been policing.
And it's a, it's not good and the reports just keep coming.
- You were there the day of the bail hearing room, the new bail hearing room opened on February 17th.
You and I were both there at the same time.
At the time, it wasn't really in the bail hearing room, it was in Karen Massey's courtroom because that room was not open.
But from what I understand, that actual bail hearing room is open.
Can you kind of give me an update on that and how that's going?
- Let me ask to, just to clarify, it's a new bail hearing room, but it's a new bail process, right?
A new whole, a different approach that was very across the spectrum.
I think Amy Weirich was in favor of this DA Mulroy.
You've been in favor, I mean, a whole range of people have been in favor of this new approach to bail.
So go ahead.
- That's correct.
- And it did include a new physical space in the courthouse, which is where Julia and I were back in February.
Unfortunately, that space was delayed in its opening because of an elevator malfunction that lasted a few weeks.
But the hearing room is open now, and the process is being implemented.
We still have a lot of work to do as a county and as a system because it requires a very significant change, not in the law.
The law in Tennessee was actually pretty good on how we make pretrial release decisions and what we are to consider and what we are not to consider.
The US Constitution and the interpretation of it is very clear on how we should treat people who are accused of crime and whether or not we detain them.
So it's really just about following the state law.
And that is something that the county agreed to change, how it responded and how it did that.
I think we've got, again, some challenges ahead of us, but we've started that process and we've seen, we've seen progress so far in the way that we're doing that.
We believe people's constitutional rights are protected.
We believe people are getting representation in these situations for the first time in a long time.
- Talking about public policy that Memphis City Council has approved a number of ordinances that are, I will summarize them poorly as attempting to reduce traffic stops for minor offenses, broken taillights, maybe expired tags.
There's another ordinance that's coming that does more of that, I'll start with you.
Is that a step in the positive direction?
I assume you're gonna say yes.
How and but tell me why, tell me, let me just do that.
You're nodding yes, what does that do?
What does that accomplish?
- Yes, it is a step in the right direction.
It's obviously not going to solve all our problems.
And I would summarize 'em by saying they're public safety ordinances.
We're trying to increase the safety of drivers, of citizens, of residents and all who come into contact with one another, including during traffic stops.
One of the things that makes, that raises the danger of over-policed communities is that they can, when people can operate in the shadows.
When police can operate without citizens being clear about what's supposed to happen at a traffic stop, when they really should be allowed to let go, and should they have even been pulled over in the first place?
And so these bring some of those things out into the light to say, no, maybe let's not have you be pulled over by unmarked police cars, so you have to guess whether or not you're being robbed or pulled over by a legitimate officer.
Same thing with traffic data.
Am I being pulled over for this light being out, and can it escalate from there?
We can stop these incidents that escalate from there if we stop pulling people over for things that could have been done with a traffic camera.
- All of us live in Memphis.
I'm gonna guess, but you can tell me you haven't, you've had the experience of going down a major thoroughfare and somebody driving by you at 75, what feels like 75, 85 miles an hour.
And if you've been on the highways, you've probably had that experience.
Critics are concerned that of the new ordinances are concerned that well what do this will stop us from dealing with people who are speeding.
This will stop us from dealing with people who are driving recklessly.
- I would say that's not true at all.
In the work that we've been doing on these ordinances, the emphasis is pulling people over for things that are not dangerous.
I think somebody going 75, for example, in a 35 is dangerous.
It would be dangerous to motorists, it would be dangerous to somebody on the street.
When we're talking about somebody driving with one taillight out and they still have two working taillights, that person can continue to drive, can be given a citation and could even be given a voucher or some sort of connection to somebody who could help them get their taillight fixed.
That's an easier way to deal with these things and it's safer for all of us.
I think it's a false equation to put those two things side by side.
- Are there other ordinances before I go back to Julia, ordinance or changes that you'd like to see the city implement in terms of how MPD does its work?
- Well, the job equality ordinance is one that we're supporting and looking forward to going forward next month.
And so, I know there's an ordinance around removing the task force because there's concern as it relates to the SCORPION units.
Similar tactics are in place in different departments.
And so removing those, well, I was gonna say organizations, but organized crime units within the system, like removing those things is necessary because... yeah, it's not, I'm not, I'm stumbling.
- No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
That's all right.
And just to clarify for people maybe aren't as close to this as we are, SCORPION was the group that was a task force.
It was doing a lot of stopping for low level offenses, kind of broken taillights and you know, minor traffic infractions that, you know, that was the group that horrifically, you know, killed on video, you know, charged with murder, Tyre Nichols.
It came out afterward and maybe a little bit before lots of other incidents like that where people were being pulled over aggressively.
So those sort of tasks force, SCORPION was a task force.
It stood for something that maybe Julia has.
So you are wanting MPD and the city to stop doing those sorts of task force, is that?
- Yes, because what we see is an abuse of power when those ordinance or units are put in place.
And so, if we eliminate that, not in extreme situations where there's a hostage negotiation or something like that, you may have a special team that goes in and handle those things, but you don't need special units to go in and treat everyday citizens as terrorists.
And so that's the reason we want to see those units dismantled or removed.
- I'm sorry, I keep interrupting, I apologize.
- No, you're fine.
- Right now again, I'll go to Julia, right now there's a, like a 10 person or 10 police officer, I think it is a unit that's focused on traffic issues.
Would that fall into this umbrella that you're talking about that we don't need that kind of task force or that kind of group?
- Yes, now you can have a traffic unit to handle traffic.
You don't need a specialized force to handle traffic.
- Okay, Julia.
- Would you say that we need an end to, you know, all units, you know, 'cause, you know we're seeing a rise in property crimes in Memphis for instance, lots of auto thefts.
Would you say that we need the end to auto theft task forces and things like that as well?
- I wouldn't say we need a end to all units, but we need an end to the units that are not adequately doing what's necessary in the community.
They are going in and they're using force and we know there's a lot of trauma in the community, so they're not even equipped to handle individuals that they're showing up to service.
And so, it's more so just a matter of allocating funds to people that can go out.
If there's something going on with a individual that may have a mental insta-, like, you know, some mental health issue, you need somebody that understands those things and not necessarily going to apply force.
And that's what we're constantly seeing in the community.
People are being mishandled and that's not okay.
- Josh, we're talking about data on crimes and where crime is, and it's been a debate as long as I've been, you know, tracking this kind of stuff back into college and you know, whatever sociology classes about, you know, there's reported crimes, then there are charges, then there are, when you survey and you ask people, have you experienced crime?
And those numbers can vary a little or a whole lot and can be used in different ways.
So, some of the numbers that we reported and Julia and others, but Julia was very much in the lead on this in a recent juvenile crime and juvenile justice series where the carjackings were, oh, I gotta get my numbers here.
Between January and September of 2022, juveniles charged with crimes increased 42%.
Of the 240 distinct carjackings arrests MPD made in 2022, 42% or 101 of them were juveniles.
Car thefts, and these are charges, right?
These are charges.
So I'm gonna let you talk about that.
There were 9,000, almost 10,000 thefts from automobiles in 2022.
Again charges, that's a 30% increase from 2021.
And MPD officials said juveniles make up 38% of those arrested for auto thefts and more 15 year olds, excuse me, have been arrested for auto thefts so far in 2023 than any other age group.
One of the things that MPD said over and over, and this was there are more juveniles, they're younger and there are more guns involved.
Do you push back on those numbers?
- Well, you're reading the statistics and so, no.
What I do recall from the reporting that's been happening in The Daily Memphian about youth who are involved or accused of crime is something that I noted was in the raw numbers from year to year.
I'm not sure if it was '21, I guess it was '21 to 2022, it was maybe 10 more children, right?
Ten in a city and a metro area of more than a million people.
And so, again, problem, if 15 year olds have guns, that's a problem.
If 15 year olds are taking cars, obviously that's a problem.
But in the scope of the problems and the harm that happens in our community, most of which does not get redressed by police, you're right, there's a crime that's reported versus crime that occurs and then of the reported crime, very small percentages of that are arrests ever made, ae those crimes ever cleared.
So we're talking about a very small number of crimes that get a whole lot of attention.
And I think the sort of the stew, the recipe for that is very clear.
A state where guns are readily available, a city where poverty is generational and pervasive and children without opportunity and without a lot of hope and without a lot to lose.
And of course we're going to have crime.
But again, I think it's important to note that this is a very small percentage of the harm that's occurring in our community.
- The gun thing is interesting that, and I've said this before, but in all the shows I can ever remember doing on crime, especially in the last couple years, I've never had anyone on any part of this discussion of criminal justice who've said they support the laws of the state.
I mean that people from Memphis, Shelby County, whether that's law enforcement, whether that's tough on crime people, whether that's more reform warning on people all agree on that and that point to a direct correlation when you could leave your gun in your car and as an extension of the home, car break-ins went up and the number of guns on the street went up.
I mean it's, there's everyone seems to agree on that one thing.
I'll come back to you just real quickly.
I mean the 10, you know, the reported 10,000 thefts from cars, that's a lot of cars.
And one can assume that a whole lot more happened that weren't reported.
I mean, 'cause you can assume that, and those are crimes that don't necessarily individually make, you know, the cover The Daily Memphian or this show.
But that's, you know, that's for someone a $300 window, that's a, "I gotta take a day off from work."
"I feel less safe", potentially, "I can't park maybe like, "this is the third time this has happened to me, "this is the second time it's happened to me, my friend had it happened to me."
Those what some people call, I don't like the term nuisance crime because, but what people sometimes call nuisance crimes, those are, those really upset people across the political spectrum, across neighborhoods because of all that stuff.
What I, can I go to, what about those?
- I think you're right to say, to talk about those ripple effects, right?
When you have those crimes, and this is why I think it's really important to remember the criminal justice system we currently have does not address those ripple effects.
There's nothing you can do to increase the attention of folks that's going to make our neighbors feel safer.
I've had this, we've now had two car break-in runs down my street in the last couple of months.
One was just about a week ago.
And there's one systemic cause and I wanna say systemic because sometimes we don't understand what we say when we're using these words.
So, it's a systemic cause, if the law has made guns easier to put in cars, then we have a systemic cause for why children who are always looking for opportunities to push the boundaries, because that is the nature of adolescence, now have an opportunity to get 'em outta of cars.
Add to that, the systemic problem of Infinitis and these same cars having these vulnerabilities, now you have another systemic cause.
So let's, I wanna put that there and we don't ignore the fact that this became like a TikTok revolution, that people were breaking into cars.
So that's why you have these numbers.
But on top of that, if we could start to talk more seriously about restorative justice, then we can talk about a tool we have that we can add to our criminal justice system that not only addresses the harm that was done, but the ripple effects and has the possibility of preventing that crime going forward in the future from that human being and the human beings associated with them.
- Restorative justice is what?
- Yes, so restorative justice is a tool you can use, but it's also an ethos, a way of looking at justice that says the way to right wrongs is to address the harm itself, but also its effects in the community and the possibility of it happening again.
It's a way, and I keep talking about healing because it's part of that, it's a way of closing and cutting off the cycle of crime, repeated crime, victimization and back to crime.
- Do you see a will for political leaders to make change around guns?
And that's gotta come from the legislature around restorative justice, which is probably the legislature and how the local county courts and the sheriff's department and the MPD operate, is there a political will to change?
- I do believe there is one.
For example, the Rafi Institute has a diversion program that they work with the district attorney and the juvenile court judge and the individuals that are justice impacted and also the families to try to bring forth light.
Why did this occur?
And like how do we reveal from this, not necessarily in a penalty manner, but how do we restore this child?
How do we not throw them away and cast them aside based off of mistake they made?
Because as youth, you make mistakes, like that's when you learn.
And so we have to be intentional about restoring our youth.
And so, that can be done.
It's happening in different places and it can happen here as well.
- And their recidivism rate for young people who go through the program is less than 5%.
- And how many, give or take, I don't wanna put you on the spot, but I mean, how many young people, how many are they dealing with?
Do they have the capacity to deal with?
- They have seen several hundred, I would say it's just about under 200 cases, this year in Nashville where they're working in Davidson County.
Does that number sound about right?
- But they're not in Memphis to be clear?
- They're not.
- They are working to try to get that program here in Memphis as well.
- Just four minutes left, go ahead.
- Tikeila I wanna ask you, 'cause you're a former elementary school teacher.
Back, you know, we just had a juvenile crime project published and our education reporter, Aaron Fleming did a story on truancy.
You know, he cited a weekly update that Memphis Mayor Strickland wrote back in September saying that truancy leads to crime.
But then he talked to a school official who said, that's not true.
And most juvenile crime happens after school hours.
What are your thoughts?
Do truancy in crime go hand in hand?
And what can we do to address that?
- I don't agree that truancy leads to crime.
A lack of opportunity and resources is what lead is leading to crime, and so, and I don't, what's the second part of your question?
- Do they go hand in hand?
And what can we do to address that keep kids from focusing on crime and focusing on, you know, school and work and things like that?
- Well, that's a whole 'nother topic in itself because the educational system is not doing an adequate job to engage our students because they're continuing to push forth curriculums that's not at, like, not what our students need.
And so, no, they don't go hand in hand.
But again, that's a bigger issue because education in itself is a problem.
- For kids, I'll go to Josh on this and whoever else with the couple minutes left here, for back to, what was the name is Rafi Institute?
- Rafi Institute.
Is there, are there enough of those resources?
So, because if you talk about, like Mayor Strickland uses the phrase revolving door a lot, you know, not just for juveniles, but you know, people go in 201 Poplar their booked, they're released with a citation, they go into juvenile court, they're released with a citation.
It was not a murder, it was not a violent crime, but it was a crime that, you know, it was car break-ins or it was something in that scale, okay?
Is there enough, are there enough resources to then intervene with that child and 15, 16, 17 years old and say, Hey, hey don't, not just don't do that, but why?
And surround and wrap around them.
Because I think the concern people have is well then they're back out, they have a citation.
They may or may not have an ankle bracelet, but they're basically on their own recognizance.
They've already shown that they've made a mistake.
Is there the support there to help them change their ways?
- No, of course not, of course not.
- And how do we get there then?
- Well, I think one of the reasons that the three of us are here is because we represent three different organizations, but we represent a coalition called the Justice and Safety Alliance, right?
The Memphis Justice and Safety Alliance.
You can Google Memphis Justice Safety Alliance and learn more about us, learn about our platform.
And that's why you invited us here because we speak about these issues in different ways.
We speak about these issues over the course of generations and over the, and in ways that talk about disinvestment and switching to investment.
And what you're talking about is a lack of investment in systems that meet the needs of children who are brought into the criminal legal system, and many, many more adults who are brought into the criminal legal system, lack the supports and the opportunity and the investments over the course of lifetimes and generations to reduce some of these statistics that we want to reduce.
And so, we've taken it upon ourselves to take this bull by the horns in this community and begin to be real with our community about what causes crime, what real safety looks like, and where the money should be spent.
And we don't believe that it's in the apparatus that is our criminal legal system today.
- Just 30 seconds for this, what you, we talked about Chicago last time on your show, you talked about Chicago.
What else works with younger criminals, whether that's juvenile or in their 20s?
- One of the things that is statistically shown for our state is that something like 86% of the young people who were in the juvenile system were also in the child welfare system.
What are we, how can we live with that statistic, right?
So how do we move into that?
I think we continue to support young people while they're still coming up, while they're still growing up and get them what they need at that time so that we're not looking at 'em then.
- It's a much bigger conversation.
I'm sorry I didn't give you, it didn't, but I appreciate that.
I appreciate all of you being here.
Thank you, Julia, thank you all for watching us.
If you miss any of the show, you can go to wkno.org and get the full video.
Or you can download the full audio as a podcast wherever you get your podcasts.
Thanks very much, we'll see you next week.
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