Wednesday, June 07, 2006

An Important Message From Downtown Memphis...

My friend Paul Ryburn posted an important message today on his blog. I hope you’ll read it below and e-mail Paul at if you want to get involved in his new organization to help fight crime in downtown Memphis.

(Keep it safe – I want to come back! J)


Crime in Downtown Memphis

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. 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.

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