In a press conference Wednesday morning, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich and Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong announced that a recent drug and gang investigation brought forth 30 indictments for drug-related offenses.
The lengthy investigation was conducted over several months and resulted in arrests within South Memphis' Riverside neighborhood, an area that's been plagued with gang activity and drug distribution for years.
MPD’s Organized Crime Unit seized more than 700 grams of cocaine, $400,000 in cash, and various automobiles and other items. Two primary targets of the investigation were brothers Kenneth and Keith Bohanon. The brothers were one-time major customers of the notorious Craig Petties organization.
Ten of the 30 defendants are charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to sell cocaine in an amount over 300 grams. This is a class A felony that normally carries a punishment of 15 to 25 years in prison. Twenty other defendants are charged with purchasing cocaine for resale. Three of the individuals charged are gang members: one with the Riverside Rollin’ 90s Crips and two with the Gangster Disciples.
Prior to the indictment, the Riverside community had been on the MPD's radar. In September, the MPD's Multi-Agency Gang Unit issued the first-ever injunction against a criminal gang. The injunction declared the Rollin 90s a public nuisance and banned its members from indulging in illegal activity, such as drug dealing, weapon possession, trespassing, and public drinking.
The 30-person indictment is not directly linked to the September gang injunction. However, it's another step for law enforcement on its journey to restore the city's Riverside neighborhood.
Workers Interfaith Network and fast-food workers banded together this morning to protest minimum wages and the lack of ability to form a union. The protesters rallied at two McDonald’s locations before marching from the county courthouse downtown to the intersection of Danny Thomas Boulevard and Poplar Avenue, where Wendy’s and KFC are located.
“Before we were invisible, now our voices are being heard. We’re telling fast-food companies it’s not OK anymore to rake in huge profits but pay poverty wages,” said Ashley Cathey, a McDonald’s worker. “We’re standing up for higher pay, which will not just help fast-food workers but will help get Memphis’ economy moving again.”
In Memphis, the median wage is $8.49 and there are 11,400 fast-food workers, according to the Workers Interfaith Network. The organization also cites a model developed by a professor at MIT, which showed that an adult worker in Memphis with a child has to make $18.18 an hour to make a living wage.
“Corporations like McDonald’s are making big profits by paying poverty wages, and that’s just wrong,” said Dr. Herbert Lester from the Workers Interfaith Network. “They can afford to pay a living wage, which would put more money in workers’ pockets, so they can spend it in our community and lift our economy.”
Last month, voters raised the minimum wage in SeaTac, Wash., to $15 an hour, among other cities and states in the process of raising their respective minimum wages. The White House also announced Dec. 3 that it would support a Senate bill to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
An employee at the Beers Van Gogh Center of Excellence has been terminated for sexual harassment, following a months-long campaign calling for his termination by Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality (H.O.P.E.).
Over the past year, H.O.P.E., an advocacy group that fights for the rights of homeless people, has received complaints from their members and former employees of the Beers Van Gogh Center alleging that peer counselor Hervelle Williams had made unwanted sexual advances toward them and had used homophobic language. The center is run by the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers Association and provides housing, support, and Medicaid services for people with mental illnesses.
"As I heard our members share their experiences, I was stunned” said H.O.P.E. member Toni Whitfield when H.O.P.E. began its campaign. ”This situation with this staff person is out of control including offering one of our members $20 to show him her breasts, telling her and others about the size of his penis, and asking a woman if she wanted to be in a 'three-way' with him and his girlfriend."
"It did not take long before we learned that this was far from an isolated incident. In fact, we think that this is part of a much larger systemic issue in our homeless services network. Folks on the streets call it 'play to stay,'" said H.O.P.E. organizer Paul Garner.
Last summer, H.O.P.E. members began weekly demonstrations outside the center to raise awareness about Williams' record of alleged sexual harassment. Each Thursday at noon, members gathered outside the center on Madison, holding signs that read "Play To Stay Is Not Okay" or "Say No To Sexual Harassment.''
H.O.P.E. members took their concerns to the Tennessee Mental Health Consumers Association, and investigations were launched by the Memphis Housing and Community Development office, Tennessee Department of Mental Health, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.
Click here for more of the Flyer's coverage on the situation at the Beers Van Gogh Center.
On Thursday, September 19th, the city’s homeless will be able to access services and resources to help eliminate the barriers that keep them on the streets during the fourth installment of Project Homeless Connect Memphis.
The one-day event will take place inside the Memphis Cook Convention Center from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Primarily targeting unsheltered homeless individuals or those who live in emergency shelters, Project Homeless Connect pairs each guest with a volunteer who helps them access services and resources for housing, jobs, medical screenings, and legal advice at one of the numerous booths at the event. Those who are unstably housed — living with friends or relatives — are also welcome to attend from 1 to 3 p.m.
Considering that September is National Voter Registration month, the event will place some focus on restoring voting rights for the homeless. Representatives of "street court," an access-to-justice program that provides voting rights restoration to people experiencing homelessness, will work with event attendees. "Street Court" will also help provide access to legal consultation and criminal court cost waivers at the event.
“[We help] them get court costs off their record that blocks them from getting a driver’s license or from opening a bank account or leasing a rental apartment,” said Chris Martin of the Shelby County Public Defender's Office. “These are very serious barriers to their reentry into the mainstream of society. They can’t get off the streets if they can’t open a bank account, get a driver’s license, or lease an apartment. These court costs are standing in the way of a lot of people being able to do that. So we wanted to provide this access to justice program to help them overcome that.”
Martin said "Street Court" has served 75 to 100 guests at each Project Homeless Connect Memphis event since 2012. "Street Court" is collaboratively spearheaded by The Shelby County Public Defender, District Attorney General, Judge Karen Massey, and Judge Robert Childers.
Project Homeless Connect is in need of volunteers to assist homeless guests as they access the services they need at different booths. Volunteers can also help hand out food, clothing and assist with the different service areas. Those interested in volunteering can go here for more information. Training for volunteers will be available at 4 p.m. today (September 18th) at the Cook Convention Center (255 N. Main St.).
Homelessness has declined in the city since the Mayor's Action Plan to End Homelessness has been implemented. In 2012, 2,076 people were homeless on an average day, according to Katie Kitchin, director of the the Community Alliance. In 2013, so far, the average count is 1,816 people homeless on an average day.
Project Homeless Connect is a national effort to provide basic services and housing options for the homeless.
Last week, Chancellor Walter Evans upheld the sale of the Nineteenth Century Club to its current owners, Mr. and Mrs. Shon Lin, thus paving the way for demolition.
Now Memphis Heritage is circulating an online petition asking supporters to pledge a boycott against any businesses the Lins may build and operate on the Nineteenth Century Club property. The petition says someone named David Wachtel of Nashville has made a formal offer to the Lins to purchase and reuse the Nineteenth Century Club building "as an upscale restaurant and event venue."
There has been no word on whether the Lins will take Wachtel up on his offer, but if someone else were to purchase the property from them and reuse the building rather than demolish, the Memphis Heritage petition says it would support whatever business locates there.
As of this writing, the petition had 1,058 signatures with a goal of reaching 2,000.
The Memphis In May International Festival will honor Panama next spring, and they're now taking applications from local high school students for study-abroad opportunities there.
The Memphis In May Student Exchange Program will send students to Panama for 10 to 12 days next spring to learn about its history and heritage.
Local public and private school students in the 11th and 12th grade can submit a written application, an essay, and a letter of recommendation from their school by November 22nd for a chance to qualify for the trip. Students will be chosen based on grades, community involvement, and speaking and writing skills.
Applications are available now on the Memphis In May website.
Memphis has the fourth lowest cost of living in the nation, according to the Council for Community and Economic Research. It falls just behind Harlingen, Texas, Norman Oklahoma, and Pueblo, Colorado.
“Memphis’ cost of living index was the lowest among all of the top 100 metropolitan areas in the United States, including cities like Jacksonville, Louisville, and Oklahoma City — all nearly the same size as the Memphis metro,“ said Adrienne Johnson, director of research for the Greater Memphis Chamber.
The cost of consumer goods and services, such as grocery bills, housing, utilities, transportation and healthcare, are factors in determining cost of living.
Mid-South city Jonesboro, Arkansas, which is located about 60 miles north of Memphis, came in at number nine on the list of least expensive cities.
Here's the list of least expensive and most expensive cities.
1. Harlingen TX
2. Norman OK
3. Pueblo CO
4. Memphis TN
5. Youngstown-Warren OH
6. Temple TX
7. Omaha NE
8. Jonesboro AR
9. Sherman-Denison TX
10. Idaho Falls ID
1. New York (Manhattan )NY
2. Honolulu HI
3. New York (Brooklyn) NY
4. San Francisco CA
5. New York (Queens) NY
6. San Jose CA
7. Hilo HI
8. Stamford CT
9. Orange County CA
10. Washington DC
Local nonprofit, SoGiv, has submitted its Global Awareness shoe into Walmart’s 2013 “Get on the Shelf” contest. The contest allows entrepreneurs around the country to submit their products for a chance to be sold on Walmart’s website and potentially have them sold in select stores.
SoGiv's "Global Awareness" shoe is a black athletic sneaker with streaks of red and a gray SoGiv logo, which has the seven continents embedded in it.
"Should we win, not only would it be a good look for Memphis, but it would allow people all over the world to buy that shoe at Walmart.com," said Edward Bogard, founder of SoGiv and designer of the shoe. "A lot of people don’t know that it’s not camouflage [but] all seven continents on the shoe. It helps kids learn their seven continents a little bit faster. It’s more than a fashion statement."
People can vote for SoGiv's Global Awareness shoe once a day up until Sept. 2nd here. A portion of the proceeds from every shoe purchased will go to one of 16 different charities and causes that SoGiv supports. These include HIV/AIDS, obesity, cancer, mental illness, and homelessness.
Bogard, a philanthropic designer, founded SoGiv in 2009 with the mission to raise global awareness and proceeds for worthy causes in the Mid-South and around the world.
Dogs and cats that have already been spayed or neutered can get low-cost shots and microchips on Saturday, August 3rd at the Pet Festival at Legends Park so long as their people live in the 38105 zip code, which covers parts of downtown.
The festival, sponsored by Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services and Memphis Animal Services, runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. They'll also be scheduling pay-what-you-can spay and neuter surgeries for the month of August.
A city ordinance requires all dogs and cats that are at least six months old to be spayed or neutered. All dogs and cats that are older than three months must be up-to-date with rabies vaccinations.
Additionally, the Pet Festival will feature toys and games for pets, activities for kids, and prizes awarded throughout the day.
The festival is funded through a $71,630 grant awarded to Mid-South Spay & Neuter Services to provide pay-what-you-can spay and neuter surgeries and rabies vaccinations for 598 cats and 497 dogs in zip code 38105.
There are more than 100 vacant, blighted homes in the area bordered by North Watkins, Benjestown, Robertson, and East Circle in Northaven, a community in north Shelby County.
But two of those homes have just received a facelift, and two families will be handed keys to the properties at 5171 Broken Oak Drive and 5036 Blacksmith Drive at a ceremony on Monday, July 29th.
The homes were renovated through a partnership between Shelby County government and the Northaven Community Development Corporation. For the past several years, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell's office has been very involved in the revitalization of the Northaven neighborhood.
“Our partnership with the Northaven CDC is a major step towards revitalizing this area of north Shelby County. This time a year ago, these two homes were abandoned and vandalized. Now, they’re remodeled and they give a new look to the Northaven neighborhood,” said Luttrell.
The Northaven CDC, which is run out of Impact Baptist Church, plans to renovate two more houses at 5158 Corkwood Drive and 5306 Braden Drive soon.
The recent renovations and the planned ones are funded through a $36,000 donation to the Northaven CDC from Shelby County government. That money was part of a $600,000 agreement with Wells Fargo after allegations the company gave home loans to people that could not afford them. The money was earmarked specifically to be used for new home loans through Wells Fargo, repairing homes for the elderly and disabled, and for anti-blight initiatives in unincorporated areas of Shelby County.
To read more about the problems faced by residents of Northaven and their efforts to fight back, read this Flyer cover story.
Shelter reform group S.O.S. Memphis, which stands for "Save Our Shelter," will hold a demonstration on Sunday, June 23rd at 1 p.m. to protest District Attorney Amy Weirich's decision to drop animal cruelty charges against former shelter employee Demetria Hogan.
Hogan had been charged with cruelty after a couple of incidents in 2011 that resulted in a Cordova family's pit bull Kapone going missing for months after he was picked up and another dog dying in her care.
A Memphis Police Department investigation in 2011 revealed that Hogan failed to perform her duties, abused her authority, and made false entries on official records when she stole a dog from the shelter. She was indicted on charges of cruelty, forgery, and misconduct.
But Weirich dropped the charges because new evidence led her to believe that Hogan would not be convicted. She apparently has some witnesses who say she did deliver Kapone to the shelter rather than losing or kidnapping the dog while out on her route. There is also some evidence that the dog who died in her care may have suffered a heat stroke.
But members of S.O.S. feel like there was plenty of evidence to show that Hogan was negligent in her care of the two dogs. In a release about their planned protest, they had this to say: "It is apparent that Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich and the city are “picking and choosing” what they prosecute and that they do not care about animal cruelty, and it continues to be apparent that Mayor Wharton does not care about animal cruelty or the accountability of his employees."
If Overton Park could speak, the hundred-plus-year-old park would likely have plenty of stories to tell. But while it's doubtful the park will ever gain the power of speech, a new collaboration is allowing Midtown's largest park to share stories in a different way.
The Overton Park Conservatory has teamed up with the Memphis Eagle Scouts and the Memphis Public Library to add The StoryWalk Project to Overton Park. The idea was pushed by 16-year-old Eagle Scout candidate John Robert Leake, as well Mary Seratt from the Memphis Public Library and Information Center.
This new attraction is located on a scenic quarter-mile trail adjacent to East Parkway. Wooden posts line the route, and each post contains one page from the children’s book Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. In order to finish the story, the readers must follow the trail and read the pages placed on each wooden post until the trail, or story, ends.
The trail was opened to the public in April, and so far it has received positive feedback, particularly on the Overton Park Conservancy's Facebook page. Melissa McMasters, director of communications for the Overton Park Conservatory, as well as one of the main figures behind the project, contributes the success of StoryWalk to the originality of the idea of combining outdoor recreation and literacy as a working partnership.
The StoryWalk Project encourages children not only to exercise but also to read, ultimately killing two birds with one stone. Another reason for the trail’s popularity is because it brings an element of surprise for those simply going for a walk in the park.
“If the parents or children don’t know about the trail, it’s something fun to discover," McMasters said.
The books will be switched out at various times to encourage children to keep reading and allow them to read different books. The new Overton Park trail is the first StoryWalk Project installation in Tennessee, but Serratt said she hopes the project's will allow for more StoryWalk trails to be added in various parks of Memphis.
The StoryWalk Project is just one of several recent additions and changes at Overton Park. Last year saw the opening of the Overton Bark dog park. Currently, additions and renovations are underway to make Overton Park a better and more modern family venue, such as remodeling Rainbow Lake Playground, cleaning up the limestone nature trail, and introducing a new bike trail that will connect Overton Park with the Shelby Farms Greenline.
Memphis Animal Services (MAS) medical director Rebecca Coleman was written up by city officials for "cruel and inhumane treatment" after it was discovered that a dog with an embedded collar waited four days for medical treatment.
An embedded collar means the dog's collar was so tight that it had grown into its neck. The dog in question had an infection from the in-grown collar. According to shelter records, Coleman was the only vet on duty when the dog arrived last fall, but she failed to treat the animal until four days later. At that time, not all of the collar could be removed because tissue had grown up around parts of the collar. The dog was later euthanized to ease its suffering. Although the incident happened last year, it had only recently been reported in the media.
Because of this and several other issues at MAS, the members of animal advocacy group S.O.S. Memphis are planning a demonstration at the corner of Poplar and Highland at 1 p.m. on Sunday, May 19th.
According to the press release about their planned action, here are some of the other issues S.O.S. will be raising awareness about:
* A Great Dane entered the shelter wearing a muzzle. The dog sat in the cage for eight hours wearing the muzzle without food and water.
* A dog was euthanized in error because the employee did not follow shelter policy.
* An employee was fired but only after calling in sick 43 times and being tardy 40 times during a six-month period.
* An employee handled an animal inhumanely, dragging a dog with a catch pole.
The Crosstown Development Team and Crosstown Collaborative (the neighborhood's new association) held a public forum on Tuesday night at the Crosstown Arts office on Cleveland to fill neighbors in on plans for the Sears building.
Todd Richardson, project leader for the Crosstown Development Team, gave a presentation on plans to turn the 1.4-million square foot building into a "vertical urban village" complete with healthcare from the Church Health Center, Methodist Hospital, and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, shared art-making facilities and artist residency programs run by Crosstown Arts, and an education component with Gestalt Community Schools and Memphis Teacher Residency. The plans also include a mix of market rate and affordably priced apartments, retail, and possibly a restaurant space.
Construction is expected to begin by early 2014 with a completion goal of 2016. The development team is asking the Memphis City Council to budget $15 million to cover some infrastructure costs for the $175 million project.
Neighbors — many of them from the nearby Evergreen Historic District, the Vollintine-Evergreen Historic District, and the Speedway Terrace Historic District — asked questions about the current condition of the building, the importance of city funding, and parking issues.
Richardson said parking for the building's new tenants and employees could mostly be accommodated by the existing parking garage. As for increased neighborhood traffic, Richardson said the streets around the Crosstown building were designed to be wide to accommodate Sears traffic in its heyday and that the project is just bringing the neighborhood's capacity back to where it used to be.
One resident asked Richardson how the developers would prevent gentrification that may come with rising rents and property values of existing neighborhood homes and businesses. Richardson said protecting the ethnically diverse neighborhood's population is a goal of the development team, and while he expects rents to rise a little, he said the team is making an effort to communicate with business and property owners in the area to ensure that they are prepared for any changes.
Rain couldn't stop two events promoting equality and friendship this past weekend, as people from all over the Mid-South headed to Tiger Lane for the Heart of Memphis Festival and the People's Conference on Race and Equality, both events billed as alternatives to the KKK rally happening downtown at the same time.
In the Pipkin Building, a make-shift green lawn was spread out on the concrete floor for the Mayor's Easter Egg Roll, while the Memphis United organization used the Creative Arts Building as a forum to spread messages of equality and worker's rights. Most attendees visited both festivals, venturing outside only to switch venues or grab a snack from one of 14 food trucks on location.