An Interesting Story From the Memphis Commercial Appeal: Not Minimizing Crime

If only journalists and politicians in Atlanta simply acknowledged the real price of crime, instead of arguing over numbers and criticizing the public for caring.  Here is how the Memphis Commercial Appeal handles a “drop-in-crime-but-still-too-much-crime” story:

[P]olice crime stats show substantial drops in 2009, more than 16 percent below the same period in 2006.

But even below-average crime in Memphis, even on a “slow” week, still means hundreds of burglaries, hundreds of assaults, arrests for drugs and prostitution, broken car windows, stolen vehicles, sexual assaults and, on this night, an extraordinarily violent end for one man, the victim of a robbery in his apartment.

This is not sensationalizing crime: it is merely reporting it:

Murder and other violent crimes receive most of the attention in Memphis, the city’s image plagued by an average of more than 160 murders per year since 2001. But the city’s “true” crime problem — according to The Commercial Appeal’s examination of a decade of MPD data and an intense week on the streets with officers — follows a less-sensational story line.

It is the slow drip of economic crime and household conflict that runs a steady flow of poison into neighborhoods from Whitehaven to Cordova, from Frayser to Hickory Hill.

It is civic death by a thousand paper cuts.

No foot-dragging, no snide references to “perceptions” of crime.  Just reporting:

It is James Etta Moore, whose South Orleans home was burglarized five times in six months.

It’s Moore discovering a prostitute having sex in her backyard.

It’s 12-year-old Cornecia Crowley standing nearby as her dog, Cinnamon, is gunned down for barking at a passerby.

It is a fearful Robert Nelson as police arrive to investigate a break-in at a neighbor’s home near Nutbush. Months earlier, the same neighbor was dragged from his porch, beaten and robbed.

“I sleep with one eye open, and that’s not good,” says Nelson, who has lived in the neighborhood most of his life. “On Friday nights, I barely sleep at all.”

The reporters don’t neglect the courts’ role in keeping offenders out of jail and on the streets:

At the Mt. Moriah precinct, officers spend Monday morning celebrating the capture of an 18-year-old named Jermaine Cobb — known as “Moose” and with a penchant for taking computers and televisions.

“He turned 18 on the 15th of June, and he’s been locked up three times already for burglary,” Maj. Stan Eason said. “He’s our biggest headache in the Oakhaven area, really for this precinct. We’ve been dealing with him since he was 15.”

“Moose” was arrested July 13 for aggravated burglary and theft of property. He was released on July 15 on a $20,000 bond. He got locked up again July 27 for assault. He was released on July 28. He was arrested again July 30 for aggravated burglary, and they released him on Aug. 16 on a $30,000 bond. Then he was arrested, again, Aug. 20 for aggravated burglary.

“What’s difficult for us is when we’re talking to the victims we say, ‘We can arrest them, but we can’t keep them in,'” said Michael Rallings, the Mt. Moriah commander recently promoted to deputy chief. “It has to be extremely frustrating for them, but it’s also very aggravating for us because we want them to stay in there also.”

Everybody knows the courts are the problem.  The cops catch ’em, at significant expense and significant risk, and the judges and prosecutors let ’em go.  So when is somebody going to do something about it?  Anything?

The affidavit shows that 32-year-old Jimmy Norman was caught in the 1800 block of Walker Avenue in a woman’s 2009 Honda Accord. The driver’s-side window had been broken out, there were pry marks on the window frame and the car had been ransacked.

It was the second time Norman had been arrested this year. Garrett explained that residents in the Annesdale-Snowden area had been having enormous problems in the spring with car break-ins, “so we spent a lot of money and we caught him but then he got a $1,000 bond.”

That elicited groans and laughs throughout the room; it only takes $100 to spring someone on $1,000 bond.

To Garrett, Norman is the poster child for why the MPD can expect hundreds of reports per week and many thousands per year for the kind of crimes that may lack TV-news drama but degrade the quality of a city’s life for everyone.

“We think he broke into several cars before we got him this time,” Garrett said. “He resists arrest and then he ends up telling the officers, ‘You do what you do, and I’ll do what I do.’ And he gets a $4,000 bond.

“That is killing us. It’s pure killing us.”

The article goes on to cover everything from the increase in home burglaries, to domestic violence, to gun crime, to the phenomenon of disorganized-yet-well-armed youth gangs.

It is part of a series that includes a discussion of city crime rankings and statistics, but nowhere is there the sort of dismissiveness of public concern that seems to color so much of the reporting (not to mention the politicking) on crime in Atlanta.

Read the rest here.


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