(Edited Thursday lunchtime: Scroll to the end of this post to see new comments in purple. We’re making progress.)
(Edited Thursday morning 12:23 AM: Scroll down to see new comments in blue. They’re scary.)
(Edited Wed. morning just after midnight to add: New information has been added to this post. Scroll down and see text in yellow.)
Thanks to everyone who e-mailed in response to my last post (Saturday), asking what’s up with crime downtown and why I’m so upset and frustrated. I’ve received permission to post a few things, so now I’m going to tell the whole story.
A week ago Sunday, a bunch of us were sitting in Sleep Out’s celebrating Memorial Day weekend. Well into the evening, my friend Mike King decided he needed some fresh air, so he went outside for a walk. He never came back. That’s not unusual for downtowners – we figured he ended up at another bar, or a friend’s place.
Actually, he ended up lying in the alley behind Parking Can Be Fun, out cold. He had gone for a walk around the block – he walked down Union to Front, then down the alley. Someone was hiding behind the bricks in the alley, waiting. As he passed by, they hit him in the back of the head with a brick or slapjack or other heavy object. He was unconscious until 2:30 in the morning. When he came to, his wallet and cell phone and money were gone. Oddly enough, they put his empty money clip back in his pocket. He later learned that the robbers had attempted to use his credit cards at 12 gas stations, although the card company cut them off after the 2nd purchase due to unusual activity.
The next morning, Mike and I sat at Sleep Out’s and he told me what had happened. He told me he had cancelled all his cards. “You called the police as well and filed a report, didn’t you?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “They hit me from behind, so I never saw them. Without a description, what good will it do to file a report? Besides, I don’t want to make Downtown look unsafe. This was just a one-time, isolated incident.”
“No, it’s not,” I told him. “About a month ago, a friend of mine was walking to her car, in one of the Peabody Place garages. As she was walking up the stairs, the same thing happened to her. She was hit from behind and knocked out. She came to at 6:30 the next morning, lying in the bushes outside. She’s not sure if they dragged her there, or if she tried to run for help and passed out. All her money was taken.”
Mike started to suspect that there may have been more unreported robberies of the same type. He began to talk to people around Downtown. He talked to a friend of ours who owns a popular Downtown restaurant – out of respect to them I won’t give the name, but I will say that it is in a building owned by Belz Enterprises. She told him that 5 of her employees have been mugged recently.
Friday night I was having dinner with some friends, and I filled them in on Downtown’s recent crime wave. They told me that a friend of theirs had been walking up South Main toward the central part of downtown, when two men appeared out of the bushes and jumped him and robbed him.
That was when I really started to feel unsafe. I make that South Main walk all the time on Friday and Saturday nights, to Earnestine & Hazel’s and sometimes to Raiford’s. I made that walk even more when the Blue Monkey was there.
Now I can’t make that walk anymore. My quality of life has now been affected by crime. So Karen, Russell, Nate, everyone else at E&H, if I come in less often on the weekends, I hope you’ll understand. I also feel bad for people who are buying condos at The Lofts and CityHouse or who rent at South Bluffs, and are being told that they’re only a 10-minute walk from Beale Street and The Orpheum and Peabody Place. It’s a lot longer than 10 minutes if you get knocked out.
So Friday night after dinner, my friends went to get a beer and I decided to take a walk. I walked down to Beale Street and saw the security guards searching people with metal detector wands. I realized there had to be a good reason why they implemented that measure. I wonder what kind of crime is going on around Beale Street?
Later I walked home. As I crossed the intersection at Main and Monroe, I saw two teenaged guys walking/running to their car. They were walking funny, like they were concealing items they had hidden under their clothes. I thought to myself, four cars have been broken into at my parking garage (First Park Place at 9 S. Second) in the past week. Wonder if another break-in had just occurred? But what could I do? Call the cops and say, two guys who look like they might be criminals just ran by and got into a navy Crown Victoria and drove off? I didn’t see anything. I had no evidence.
I’m becoming paranoid. After I got home that night, I paced the floor of my apartment for a good two hours, trying to calm down. About 3 in the morning I looked out the window. I can see Monroe Avenue, about 50 feet on either side of the Second Street intersection, from where I live. I saw four teenaged guys approach a car, two on either side, looking in the windows. One of the guys started to mess with the left front door. Oh my God, I thought, I’m witnessing a break-in, right here, right now!
Then the guys got in the car and drove off, and I realized I hadn’t witnessed a break-in. I had witnessed four guys get in the car they owned (or their parents owned) and drive home. Now I’m seeing crime even in places where it doesn’t exist.
As I walked home earlier that evening, I watched a cop set the light at Union and Main to flashing 4-way red, then pull cars over who did not come to a full stop. Why are police resources being used to entrap people into minor traffic violations, when my neighbors and I aren’t safe on our own streets?
I’ll be okay. I’ve always been street smart. I walk in well-lit areas downtown, as close to the middle of the street as possible. I approach dumpsters and other large objects behind which people could hide with extreme caution. But I worry about my neighbors. There are several single females who live in my apartment building who walk their dogs after dark, using the alley behind the building as a shortcut to Court Square. I think of my new neighbor who just moved in a couple of weeks ago, and how she and I grabbed a bite to eat at LoLo’s one night and had a great time, and how sad it makes me to think of her being knocked out and robbed while she’s walking her dog. I passed on the crime info to the security guard in my building. He said he’d let everyone know. My building is hiring a new courtesy guard to work Monday and Tuesday. Previously we had only had a guard Wednesday through Sunday. I commend the owners for taking that step.
I’m sitting here typing this post at the Flying Saucer. (In keeping with the June theme – it’s a shame that the uniforms the waitresses wear don’t include a tube top option.) Many of the waitresses here have become my friends. I worry about them. I wonder how many of them have been mugged walking to their cars, considering a business a block away has seen 5 of its employees get mugged? The Saucer has had a pretty high turnover the past few months. I wonder if any waitresses have quit because of the crime downtown?
I’m sitting at the Second Street window at the Saucer. Outside a bum is approaching people, hitting them up for money. This is not a homeless person who’s genuinely is in need of help – this is a businessman engaging in a money-making venture, doing the same thing he has been doing every day for the past three years. “Sir! Sir! Sir,” he calls out to passersby. “Can I ask you a question,” he says, extending his hand. People try to avoid him, some successfully, some not. Peabody Place security shoos him away, but he’ll be back in 30 minutes. I do not believe that this bum is one of the people that has been knocking people out and robbing them. I have to wonder if the true robbers see that people like this bum are tolerated downtown and see an environment which is favorable for crime.
Take a look at the Memphis Police Department’s Crime Mapper. Try searching for all crimes that have occurred in the past month within half a mile of Union and Main. 41 larcenies as of today. 73 vehicle break-ins. 12 narcotics violations (and look how many of them have occurred on Beale Street). How can we claim that Downtown is the safest part of the city when all that is going on? And when I search for robberies, how many turn up? Zero. That indicates that a LOT of people are not filing police reports.
I’m frustrated. I’m angry. A lot of other people are too. I feel like the neighborhood I love is being taken away from me. Actually, I think downtown is still pretty safe overall, but I also think we’re approaching a tipping point, where if we don’t fight back now, the criminals will take over for good by the end of the summer. That’s bad for all of Downtown. Own a condo in the area? Your property values will decline as a result. Own a business? Your revenue will decline because people will be afraid to come down here. This is not just a problem for the people who get robbed or attacked. This is a problem for all of us. We must work together to fight the crime.
What can you do to help? First of all, if you’re robbed, for God’s sake, file a police report. Even if you have no idea who robbed you, at least the cops will know where they need to step up their patrols. If you see suspicious activity, call the police and report it. The Downtown Precinct’s number is 525-9800; that hopefully will get you a better response time than the main 545-COPS line.
Several of my friends and I, including my friend Mike who was robbed, plan to put together an organization to share crime information, raise awareness of criminal activity downtown, and lobby the people in power to do something. If you’d like to be a part of this, e-mail me. If you’ve been a recent crime victim or if you know of people who have, please e-mail me and let me know. The information you send won’t be posted on this blog if you tell me you wish it to remain private. If you can get us in touch with a Henry Turley, Jack Belz, Kevin Kane, media outlet or other person/business that has the power to get things done, please e-mail me.
Please forward a link to this post to anyone you feel should see it. Thanks.
Added Wednesday morning 6/7:
It’s 12:25 am and I just got home from the Saucer. The Rapscallions won first place in trivia tonight. Carmel was there but did not have a tube top on. I wish I could be happy about our victory but I have another story to tell.
A friend of ours lives in Barton Flats. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, that’s a condo in a building between Front Street and Wagner Place at Gayoso, overlooking the Mississippi River. He told us the following story, and it makes me feel less safe than ever.
Up until midnight the Memphis Police Department allows cruisers to congregate in Tom Lee Park. Then MPD shuts the park down. The cruisers make their way north, onto Riverside and Wagner and Front. The area receives only intermittent police patrol, as the cops are concerned with more high-profile streets, like Union and Second and Peabody Place.
About 2:30 AM last Saturday, a car containing 5 guys backed into a parking space on Wagner Place right outside Barton Flats. You’re not supposed to be able to do that. You’re supposed to pull into those spaces one way only, head first. But they backed in for easy escape.
So this car backed in and the 5 guys in the car got out. They walked up Gayoso. They didn’t all stick together – they scattered somewhat, looking in cars, looking around, etc.
30 minutes later, two of the group reappeared, walking separately, once again looking into cars. My friend who lives in Barton Flats walked onto his balcony. The guys on the street saw him and ran away, behind the bluff. They would soon reappear.
Not long after, a couple who lived in the building pulled into the parking lot. The two guys could be seen hiding in the shadows, waiting to attack the downtown couple.
My friend ran back out onto the balcony and yelled, “Don’t you even THINK about it!” at the would-be attackers.
“Think what?” they responded. Meanwhile, my friend on the balcony motioned the couple into a side entrance. He had just thwarted a robbery.
I posted my original crime story yesterday. My previous record # of hits in one day was 198. Yesterday I logged 257. People are responding. Please keep passing this on.
I mentioned my friend Mike King in the original post. He wonders if some people will recognize him by face, but not by name. So here’s his pic, with full permission to post.
His e-mail is email@example.com if you would prefer to communicate with him directly. Again, I have his permission to post his e-mail address.
Also tonight, a friend of mine who recently bought a condo just south of the Arcade on Main Street, walked up to the Saucer from his new home to play trivia. After hearing our stories he paid a dollar to ride the trolley home. The fact that he had to pay that dollar makes my blood boil.
I told one of the waitresses at the Saucer tonight what was going on, and just watched a worried-sick-pale-as-a-ghost look come over her face. I hope she doesn’t quit. I hope she tells the other waitresses. They deserve to know.
Our neighborhood isn’t safe anymore. Someone please help us.
Added comments Thursday 6/8/06 12:23 AM:
Comments temporarily deleted while I do some thinking.
I do want to keep the suggestion that starting a chapter of The Guardian Angels in downtown Memphis might be a solution to fight back against crime.
Comments added Thursday lunchtime: I’m getting a lot of “Paul, you’re scaring me to death!” e-mails this morning. I know. I’m scared to death too. The good news is, we’re making progress. My point in making these blog posts is not to complain about the crime problem; it’s to take ACTION.
A reporter with Channel 5 saw this blog, and they are planning to run a story on us. Unfortunately the main person they need to talk to, Mike King, is out of town on business, so we have to wait until he gets back and can be interviewed.
Another reader said she could get us a meeting with MPD Director Godwin, if that would help. Yes, yes, yes! And thank you, thank you, thank you! I’d also like to get a meeting with the commander of the Downtown Precinct.
The same reader also sent me the phone number of City Councilman Myron Lowery, and requested that he be informed of the crime problem. I’ll be contacting him within the next day.
So things are happening. We need your support. We want to fight crime as a community. If you want to be a part of it e-mail me and I’ll add you to the list. Mike and I and a couple of other people are going to meet this weekend about specific goals we want to accomplish, then we’ll shoot out a group e-mail. If you have ideas or thoughts please send them.
Tuesday evening (June 13) at 6:30 PM, the South Main Neighborhood Association will have their monthly meeting at Remax on the River, 500 S. Main. Among other items on the agenda, my neighbor Paul Morris will be speaking on the panhandling problem downtown. I’m going to head down there, listen to Paul’s talk, and hopefully meet some of the South End developers and make them aware of the crime problem. Appetizers will be served and there will be a cash bar. (Trivia team – this means I’ll be late next Tuesday – someone else is going to have to get to the Saucer on time and sign the team up)
Speaking of South Main/South End condo developers: I’ve been checking my blog tracker and watching you guys hit the site all morning. Having your properties’ names mentioned in a downtown crime post sure does make you look bad, doesn’t it? Join up with us – become part of this new movement to take back downtown. E-mail me. If you’ve already implemented measures to fight crime, let us know what those are. I won’t mention anything you say in e-mail or your property’s name in association with those e-mails without your express permisson. I understand and respect your need to protect your property’s good name.
My friend PDS sent the following:
“Just an FYI… I recovered a stolen vehicle that had been parked in my lot on Mud Island for about a month. Apparently it had been stolen from a downtown hotel’s lot (the Radisson, I believe) and left unlocked in my lot, with the keys in the trunk. It struck me that perhaps someone knew what they were doing, perhaps someone learned this trick as a valet somewhere, perhaps someone wanted to access the vehicle again? Although this particular vehicle was never moved once parked, I’ve kept an eye out for seemingly-out-of-place vehicles, and suspicious characters.
I mention this as it may correspond to gang-related crime, and targeting of the downtown area in general as a place where there’s money, etc. to be had relatively simply. I’m no expert, but I seem to remember certainty/severity/celerity from sociology class: crime is deterred only when there is certainty of punishment, severity of punishment and celerity (swiftness) of punishment. It appears to me, we are lacking the certainty and celerity elements here.
Another point to stress is one you made on your blog, and one that permeates most pick-up basketball games I’ve ever played in… no harm, no foul. Unreported muggings and the like don’t get the same attention as shootings, stabbings, etc… so while your forum has given many people pause, and hopefully made them more safety-conscious, the real coup will be your blog being the squeaky wheel to get downtown the grease it needs.”
Great comments, PDS. Thanks.
We’re making progress but I still need your help… if you can put us in touch with anyone else in a position to help fight crime, let me know.
I’m going to set up a Gmail or Hotmail address soon so I don’t have to use my personal account to handle all the crime correspondence. Will let you know when I get that done. There’s also been talk of creating a separate blog to discuss downtown crime. Right now I want to leave the post on my blog, simply because my blog has something of a built-in following and performs well in Google searches.
I slept four hours last night. I’m just unbelievably stressed out, trying to talk to people, keep up with e-mails, post updates to my blog, contact local officials, etc. And, of course, I still have a J-O-B. And I need to get my car inspected and registration renewed. I need a break. Therefore, I’ll be going to the Peabody rooftop party tonight to dance, have a few drinks, and listen to Venus Mission. Anyone who wants to join me is welcome. I’ll be up there around 7:15 or so.