By John Branston

            What a way to spend the holiday weekend: keeping up with killings in the news and trying to make some sense of the surge of murders and gun violence in Memphis.

            Memphis has set a new annual homicide record and a final tally of 400 is within reach. There is simply no way to spin this. When someone says “shark attack” on the beach, you get out of the water. No need to know how rare this is, how gentle the shark usually is, how far away from your umbrella he is. It’s a shark attack!

            What are Memphians supposed to make of Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis’s comment that only 8 percent of Memphis murder victims are strangers to the killer? Presumably she was trying to tamp down fears of random attacks that make national news, but I wondered anyway. “Boy, that’s a relief.” “So stay away from strangers and strange neighborhoods?” “Friends don’t kill friends.”  “If you see a stranger acting strange say something?” “If you know someone homicidal you will probably be OK?” “Why is the guy who filmed himself killing strangers more than a year ago still alive and awaiting legal inaction?”

            Or the news that 53 percent of those arrested by Memphis cops are violent repeaters? So blame the courts and prosecutors? Build more jails? Lock them up quicker and longer?

            Or the holiday message from the chief of trauma at Regional One Health that more than 1400 patients will come in from gun violence this year – also a new record.

            Smart City blogger Tom Jones has examined the murder stats in Memphis and other cities and the history of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. It is recommended reading.

            Here is a much simplified sidebar.

            1997: The year the crime commission was established. First director was a rising star from outside Memphis; current head is former Shelby County DA Bill Gibbons.

            1998: Homicides decline.

            1999: Homicides start to increase again.

            1: Rank of WREG-TV news in monthly views.

            8: Number of its nine leading stories that were about violent crime last weekend.

            5: Memphis mayors in last 40 years.

            13: CJ Davis is the 13th Memphis police chief, but the number is misleading. The title “police chief” was abolished in 1977 and replaced by “director” but then brought back. Also, there have been several interim directors/chiefs who became more or less permanent.

            In short, it is fair to say that the tenure of a police chief is similar to the tenure of a high-profile football coach. It is also fair to say that every brave individual who held the position regardless of title was dedicated to reducing violent crime and that none of them were “pro-crime” or favored defunding the police, cutting the budget, or releasing violent criminals.

            And we still set more records this year.


John Branston was a reporter and columnist in Memphis for 40 years.


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