Behind the Headlines – June 3, 2016

Behind the Headlines – June 3, 2016


(female announcer)
Production funding
for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by.. (male announcer)
The Bartlett Area Chamber
of Commerce and its member A2H, engineers,
architects and planners creating an enhanced quality of life
for our clients and community. To learn more about
A2H’s services and markets, visit A2H.com. – Crime and the community and
the efforts to reduce it tonight on Behind the Headlines. [theme music] – I’m Eric Barnes, publisher of
The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight by Pastor
Keith Norman from the First Baptist Church on Broad. Thanks for being here. – Thank you. (Eric)
Josh Spickler is
executive director of Just City. Thanks for being here. Harold Collins with
Operation: Safe Community, thanks for being back. – Thanks for having me. (Eric)
And Bill Dries, senior reporter
with the Memphis Daily News. So, there has been
a rise in crime. It’s been in the news. We’ll talk maybe a little
bit about some of the specific instances that have gotten some
headlines but maybe a bigger picture conversation
about what’s going on. I thought I’d start with a
general question of from each of your seats, from each
of your perspectives, what is responsible for this
uptick in the violent crime? Certain crimes are down but
certainly murder rates have basically doubled
compared to last year. Harold Collins, your
take on what’s going on. – Well, I consider
it to be number one, we are a part of a
larger group of cities, major urban cities across the
country that’s seeing an uptick in homicides. The FBI director came to Memphis
a couple of weeks ago to share that information
with some of us. But more importantly, I see it
as a perfect storm in Memphis where we have seen a reduction
in law enforcement personnel across the city. We continue to see young
African-American men who are underemployed or unemployable. They see family members and
friends who seem to can’t get ahead in life. Even with a high school diploma
or some other form of formal education, they seem to
take two steps forward, three steps back. And when you put
all of that together, you get this angry sense
of desperation and despair. And so, we have a group of
people in our community, particularly African-American
men who feel they’re not getting ahead in life. And so, what they do
is lash out with anger. They see violence
on the streets, in their homes, in
their communities. And that’s the only way they
know how to articulate their frustration and
get ahead in life. – Keith Norman, your take? – Some of those things I would
obviously agree with but have to disagree with in the sense
of that being the only way. And I wouldn’t want
to polarize the issue, as well, to where we recognize
that these are crimes that are taking place in the
African-American community. We have to look at the full
spectrum of why crimes occur. Law makers and the unintended
consequences of things that have happened in our community I
believe have a responsibility as well. When we look at how juveniles
have been dealt with in Shelby County where we have a record
to prove that we dealt with juvenile crime in one community
different than we dealt with juvenile crime in
another community, we have created some of the
records and some of the hurdles for these African-American males
that we have not created for others whom committed
some of the same crimes. There’s proof to go back and
look at that when we look at the Shelby County juvenile court
and how it has performed over the years. And so, we have to
look at the full system. And I think we have to be very
honest and transparent and say that both ends of the
spectrum are responsible. When we look at the amount of
guns that are on our street that are illegal, I’m not
talking about legal guns, but illegal guns on our street,
we also have to look at the distribution factor. One of the most eye-opening
days of my life and most recent history has been standing at a
protest that the people at the Darrius Stewart protest while
another young man was shot and killed at LA Fitness. And while I was
leaving that place, headed to LA Fitness to
see what was going on, because I got a phone call,
I drove past three signs at various shops that were not gun
shops in our community but they had signs out in the front of
their store saying gun sale. And so, the access to guns and
the ease by which they enter our community and the
distribution factor, we have to look
at that, as well, and not just blame the
people who are caught up in these systems. – And Josh, your group works on
some of the things that Pastor Norman just
brought up in terms of, you know, some of the tough
on crime laws that were passed maybe with good
intention, you know, to throw people away, the
three strikes and you’re out, some of these
sentencing guidelines and so on. Talk about some of those things
and the impact they’ve had and some of the ones that you all
would like to change that maybe aren’t counter
intuitive to people. For instance, the bail issue of
how expensive it is for bail and reducing that cost. And some of those things that
counter intuitively for some people, actually you
think and other people think, will help reduce crime. – Sure. And it’s counter intuitive in
a way but it’s proven now in states across the country
that we can shrink our criminal justice system. We can shrink our prison
populations and we can become safer communities. I mean, crimes going down across
the country and has been for several years now. At the same time, prison
populations and jail populations are going down. Because what we know is we
put people in that environment, in those institutions, the
chances of them coming back sky rocket. Recidivism is very high in this
state and its high across the country because what’s happening
in our prisons and jails is not rehabilitation as we state,
as we say in the law that it should be. And so, at Just City,
we’re trying to number one, keep people from ever taking
that first step into prison because of the recidivism
problem and the lack of opportunity once they’re there. And we do that with bail reform. And then once someone comes out
of that criminal justice system, it’s very difficult to get back
into the mainstream economy. And so, we’ve done a lot of work
around expungements and clearing people’s records and trying
to get them back to work. – Before we go to Bill, the bail
reform one is fascinating to me. So, you’re going to do
this right and I’m going to do it wrong. But for a misdemeanor
or for a small offense, the bail is set at $500. Most people, I think I read on
your site or heard you talking about, a lot of them
can’t pay the $500. So, they end up spending, what? Five, six, seven days in
the Shelby County jail. – Yeah, that’s correct. And so.. – For a small offense. We’re not talking about murders. We’re not talking
about violent crime here, right? I mean, they’re in jail
because they can’t get bail. – A lot of the people, most
of the people in Shelby County jail, should be said,
are there for violent crimes awaiting trial. And their bail is high
and that’s for protection. That’s just to
insure their appearance. And that’s the
purpose supposedly of bail. But there is a segment of people
in that jail on low bonds, $500 for instance, who are there
only because they don’t have the means to make that bond. And the difference.. The track that they take versus
the track that say I would take if I were in that jail,
someone would bail me out almost immediately. And I would have opportunity to
meet with my attorney and go to court kind of on my time table
and present my case and prepare my case. The person in jail, all
they want to do is get out. And so, often they’re
faced with a choice. Well, you can get out after
these three days and plead guilty and go home. And that is the choice that
they take because they want to go home. – Does that just
kind of set them up? And then I’ll go to Bill. Does that just set them up? Harold, I saw you nod your head. For more trips to the jail? – Absolutely, it does. Because once you plead guilty,
you’ve got fines and you’ve got court costs. And particularly in Memphis
because you don’t have a livable wage job, after a
certain amount of time, there’s a warrant issued for
your arrest because you hadn’t paid your court
costs and your fines. So, guess what. You get re-arrested. And then you spend another five
or six days in jail on a $500 fine because the more
time you come to jail, the more likely your bond
is going to be increased. That’s the method. And so, it’s a revolving door. – But let’s give an example of
how this might have started. Because I said it wasn’t violent
crime so it might have started with what? (Harold)
Driving while
your license is revoked. – License revoked, exactly. And then overwhelmingly,
let’s go back to the juvenile justice system. Department of Justice recently
released report shows that young African-American men were
encouraged overwhelmingly to plead guilty or take a plea. And so, and this is their only
option that’s presented to them. This is the option
that’s before you. This is the way out. Mom or dad doesn’t have the
money to get a lawyer or to get a bail set at this point or
even a young person system, 18 and above, this
is the first step. A traffic ticket is the first
entry into the justice system. I mean, that’s
the whole process. – So, is the system
on automatic pilot? I mean, is that what
we’re talking about? Because I hear discussions at
the higher levels all the time about yeah, we’re proposing this
bill that deals with harsher punishments for gang
members, for violent criminals. But we’re not talking
about non-violent offenders. But from the comments
that we’ve just had, you’re not necessarily dealing
with two different groups of defendants. You’re dealing with someone who
maybe further into the criminal justice system than they were
when they were a non-violent offender who maybe
started out that way. – Absolutely, Bill. What you’ll find is,
again in our community, overwhelming you have
individuals who drive without licenses, with
licenses being revoked. And there are hundreds of
laws now on the books that will disqualify you from
driving from paternity, to probations fees, to points. A 12 point system in our state. So, if you get all
of these combined, your license is revoked. You have a job
that’s at Technicolor. And you don’t have
transportation because the bus system doesn’t get you there. So, you take the risk to drive. You drive, you get stopped
because your taillight is out. You make an illegal right turn. They stop you. Police will arrest you. You get cited for
driving while license revoked. Second offense. Your bond is
initially 250 on the first, 500 on the second. So, then you can’t
get out of jail. That’s what Josh
is talking about. And on top of that,
when you get out, they place you on probation
for 11 months and 29 days. You got probation fees,
court costs and fines. And you don’t have a job. And so, the probation company is
going to violate you because you didn’t pay the probation fee. The court is going to violate
you because you didn’t pay the court costs. So, you get re-arrested. And then, guess what. It revolves all over again. And so, that’s what is typical
going on in Shelby County. – Let me fill the gap
between the two of these guys. What further complicates the
problem is that the places or the points of access where the
young people could have gone to get the driver’s license or the
opportunity to go online in some states where they actually have
it where you can complete most of these processes
are often overcrowded, are often not in
our communities. They’ve been shut down in
certain places where young men and young women did have access. And so, you have a poor
transportation system. You need to get a driver’s
license to go to work or you need to get the
proper paperwork. What do you do? You can’t get there. You don’t have
the means to do it. You can’t go online to get it. You can’t get it
in your community. These are the unintended
consequences sometimes that keep people caught up in the systems
that end up leading them into the prison system that they’re
trying to fight to get out of. – A point I want to make is
that these are state laws, that these are laws that we’ve
been making in the state of Tennessee in Nashville for 40
years just like we have in many states across the country. And I love Bill’s term autopilot
because that’s exactly what’s happened is that we began to
react to things that we were afraid of in the early ’80s. And those were crack babies and
those were super predators to children who were going to rise
up and be like criminals we’ve never seen before. And both of those things
turned out to be not true. Our response to them was
three strikes and you’re out, stiffer penalties
for drug offenses, stiffer penalties
for violent crimes. And so, what we have in
Tennessee is autopilot, is that we’re still reacting
to things like a spike in crime with these solutions that
are not solutions at all. And what stopped it in other
states is that they finally got tired of spending
money to house people. It’s the most expense
thing that government does. And in Tennessee, our
corrections budget is a billion dollars at the state level. That doesn’t include local jails
and correction centers like Shelby County. So, a billion dollars in the
state is being spent to house people and we continue this past
legislative session to enhance punishments and lengthen
sentences when states like Texas have closed prisons. States like Florida have turned
prisons into re-entry centers. And when they do that, when they
shave a little money off of that and put it to re-entry and put
it to programs like we’ve been talking about, their
recidivism levels go down, their prison
populations go down, their savings go up. And so, we have to get off of
autopilot and I think getting there in Tennessee, because
we’re realizing how expensive this is, we didn’t take the
steps this time around to turn off autopilot. – So, when we have more than
90 homicides and we’re not even half way through the year,
what do we do about that? Because we obviously have to
deal with that and we can’t wait for a longer.. We can’t fix everything on
the way to dealing with that. – And in my opinion,
a couple of things. I mean, again, I think
these are crimes of reaction. These are reactionary crimes. These are young men who we
know have not developed. And they don’t finish developing
until their almost to their 30s. And they’re faced with a
situation that they’re not trained to deal with. And where we see
things that work, in places like Chicago which is
another violent city seeing a spike right now, is things like
cognitive behavioral therapy, treating — teaching people to
make decisions in a different way. Not automatically but to
slow the thinking down. So, that kind of thing
can work fairly quickly. The thing that’s more long term
and Pastor Norman mentioned it a second ago is the
availability of handguns. In large cities with
poverty like Memphis, you cannot have the availability
of handguns that we have. And in places where they
tighten up as much as they can, as much as the state and federal
government will let them, we see drops in handgun drops. This is handgun
violence and gun violence. And I think we should call it
that and not just violence and not just homicide. This is gun
violence and gun murder. – Your take. I mean, getting away from, not
that it isn’t important but the violent crime,
the homicide rate. I mean, what can be done? You know, people listening,
people who turn on the news, they want
something done tomorrow. – Well, I think what we
need to do is like Josh said. Figure out a way to reduce the
number of guns in our community. The key term is illegal guns. Now, you know, our state now has
made it possible for you to have a gun at almost any situation. But there might be some
opportunities where we could ask our state legislators to come
up with laws that specifically target those guns
that are stolen. If the gun is stolen, then you
have to immediately report that gun to the police. You have to report the
fact that it was stolen. And if it’s not reported and
used in a particular crime, then there should
be consequences. I think good gun owners
would do those kinds of things. And so, what we do is put this
on legislators who promote gun safety and gun laws and
then utilize their wording. I don’t want to use
the word rhetoric. But use their terms for such
that good gun owners would do these kinds of things. And so, if you do that,
then we can reduce it. – Again, to that question of
the person who is listening who says, great. There are too many guns. I agree. And the justice
system is messed up. But I want to
feel safer tomorrow. – I think we’re leaving a big
piece out when we leave our school system out. We’ve cut so much away from it
that kids are coming out without mediation skills, without
the ability to solve problems, without the ability to talk
through things and just simply say there is another way. The immediate
reaction is always violence. And when that is the first
response or when that is the immediate response, that’s
where we have a problem. I think we go back to
community, as well. One of the things that I am a
proponent of is how do we use the model of
data driven policing with community policing. I’m not for data driven
without community policing. Because people know people. And when I know the police
officer that’s in my community or if I have a relationship with
the precinct or the people who are there, I’m more
likely to talk to them. We get phone calls at our church
all day about people who don’t feel safe but they’re
willing to say this. Pastor Norman, I want to tell
you but I’m afraid to talk to the police. Because if they come to
my door and take a report, the bad guys know
where I am now. And so, we often serve as an
intermediary in between our police and people
in our community. And not just in our
immediate community, but in an expanded area. So, I think it’s important to
involve community and get back to the sense of us
feeling connected. – Your take on
the policing issue? And it’s been a big issue
because the police force went from, what, 2400 down to 2000
and there was some Blue Crush, which is data driven, some
reintroduction of community policing. And now we have a
new administration. What is Jim Strickland gonna do? He said he wants to
get back to 2400. And he wants to do community
policing and Blue Crush. But what works
and what doesn’t? I mean, is it about
throwing cops at the problem? – I think absolutely
it’s not about that. I think it’s about how we police
and not how many police we have. The crimes that
we’re talking about, again, and I hate to
continue on this point, are crimes that
occur spontaneously. And the same with
domestic violence, which is another big
problem in this community. These are crimes that
are occurring in homes. We can’t all have a police
officer standing over our shoulder at every moment. And that’s about the only thing
that would work in terms of the number of police officers. But the way we police. And it’s important, I think,
from Just City’s perspective and from my perspective. We’re not anti-cop. We’re not anti-police. These guys are
doing incredible work. I went on a ride
along last year actually. And it ultimately changed my
perspective on all of this. These guys are on the tip of a
spear and they’re heads are on swivels constantly. We’re asking them to do a
job to reduce homicide, to reduce domestic violence. It’s impossible for
one police officer, for a squadron of
police officers, for a precinct of
police officers to do. And so, getting them in
touch with their neighborhoods, and that’s what I saw. Because this was a
community policing officer that I rode with. The people knew him. And that’s the kind of thing. They have to trust and they have
to know the communities they’re policing. And they have to be
embedded in those communities. And that’s the kind of
thing I think that works. – Before we go back to
Bill, I’ll put you on the spot. What is the rate of, you know,
with murders and violent crime? It’s people who know
each other, right? That’s what’s almost always. So, there’s this fear of violent
crime and the randomness. And I’m not saying that it’s
somehow less tragic or less sad or less awful when it’s two
people who know each other. But it’s a whole different
perspective than a sense of there is a random gunman at
any corner who might shoot me. – But it does generate fear. These headlines
and these stories, it happening on
streets that I drive down. Downtown Memphis, for
instance, is the most recent. And it drives
fear and it drives, again, our instinct to
treat this with a blunt object, with more police,
with more cameras, with more guns on
our police officers. And that I don’t
think is the solution. We have to be careful not to be
afraid because what we see with these victims is that they’re
not getting the justice that you and I would get. They’re not
getting the protection. The victims of this are
disproportionately minorities as well. And so, we’re not giving them
access to a justice system that is providing any sort of healing
or any sort of justice for the families who are
losing loved ones. But you and I are
generally safe. You’re right. – Bill. – So, when this wave of violence
that we’re seeing right now subsides and it
will at some point, do we lose the political will? Do we lose the political urgency
to continue exploring solutions? Because, I mean, I think we’ve
all seen this happen before. The individual
details are unique. Every life lost is unique. But we’ve seen
these spikes before. And we’ve seen them go down for
reasons that are as elusive as the reason that they
arose in the first place. And then people stop
talking about the things we’re talking about. – Let me respond to that
from this perspective. Political will cannot be
isolated in one silo of our government. This can’t be the mayor alone. This has to be the
mayor, the city council, the county
commission, the county mayor. It has to be a
collective problem. We’re talking about Memphis. But Memphis sits
within Shelby County. And so, if Mayor Strickland is
the only voice that’s out there trying to champion this cause
and we’re trying to pin it on Interim Director
Rallings to say, “You two guys,
fix it,” we’re not.. We’re chipping at it. We’re not trying to
really knock it out. We need to bring
together this entire community. We must bring together the
top law enforcement officer in Shelby County, which is
the sheriff by election, and we must bring the county
mayor into this conversation as well. We must bring all
resources to bear. We are in an epidemic stage. We keep talking
about it, you know, the highest crime rate. We’re leading the nation. But if we’re singing solos
rather than singing as a choir, our voice is not loud
enough and strong enough. – Operation: Safe Community
is that coalition of leaders. What are the
discussions like at that level? Does everybody around
the table agree on this or do people disagree? – Here’s what we all agree that
Operation: Safe Community 3, for example, is going to be
driven by community engagement. We recognize in 1 and 2 that we
didn’t have the participation from the community that we
needed to make this a reality. This particular process,
we’re going to engage community. That’s why Pastor Norman talked
about it can’t be just the elected officials or
the appointed officials. In order for this to
really, really change, the community has to be engaged. And they have to
have ownership of it. That’s why Josh talked about
police officers have to know who they are. But in order to do that,
and I’m glad you mentioned, they are in a different script
because they run from call to call, to call, to call. So, it’s hard to
community police, so to speak, when you have
this kind of running going on. And so, what we have to do as a
community is say this is what we want to do. This is what we want to
engage in and this is what we want to fund. See, we’re all
missing the boat here. We’re not talking about the
huge quote unquote elephant in the room. And that’s money. In order to change
some of the dynamics, the thinking, the
cognitive behaviors, the engagement, community, we
have to redirect some funding that goes to other areas that
people consider to be pertinent. And that’s the political will. So, when the crime
goes up and it subsides, then we have to say as leaders,
well maybe we should invest a little bit in community centers
more to get programming for young folks, to get directors
of programs in all these places such that it now becomes
collaboratively done versus silo driven. – Your sense? Is there the political will? There’s just a couple
of minutes left here. You talk to a lot of
political leaders. Do you try to talk to them
if they’ll listen to you? Is there political will to
stay on some of these bigger, long term
solutions, as Bill said? Or do they just want to get
through this wave and move onto other issues? – Well, I think we’re seeing the
beginning of a change in that because it is so
expensive, as I said earlier. And also, because violent crime
gets the headlines and violent crime damages families in
communities and makes us all uneasy and it’s difficult. But what we have at
the end of all of this, at the other end of all of this,
are low violent and non-violent crimes and a huge population
that’s had contact with the criminal justice system making
employment very difficult, making housing very difficult,
student loans very difficult. And these are things
that are also economic. And that does get attention. And that can
generate political will. And when I think as we realize
that as a city that we are setting ourselves an artificial
floor of employment — unemployment — that is going
to be with us because of how we used the criminal
justice system. And that kind of thing
is going to continue. Rise and falls of
violent crimes will happen. But we have a community that we
can’t put to work because of the burden of the
criminal justice system. And that’s costing us in ways
that we don’t even know right now. And so, I think we’re beginning
to see politicians and law makers understand that better. – Just 30 seconds. If the legislator
could do one, two, three things,
what would they do? – Well, I think.. At Just City, we’ve done a
lot of work around expungement. That’s where we spent
a lot of our energy. – You’ve served your time. – Give people a chance to
get that off the record. And people who are only in touch
with the system once or twice, not everyone and start there. And we’ve seen that
work in other places. – I didn’t give you enough time. That was a big question. Thank you all for being here. Enjoyed it. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. [theme music] (male announcer)
Production funding
for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by.. The Bartlett Area Chamber of
Commerce and its member A2H, engineers, architects and
planners creating an enhanced quality of life for our
clients and community. To learn more about
A2H’s services and markets, visit A2H.com.

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