On March 28th, 22-year-old Reginald Burke was shot while driving near the I-240 North/I-40 East flyover, the apparent victim of a road rage incident between himself and Tarrance Dixon and Robert Chaney, both 21. Dixon and Chaney were charged with second-degree murder.
Burke was able to flag down another driver for help and was transported to the Regional One Health, where he eventually succumbed to his injury, making him the city's 59th homicide victim.
Burke's murder is one of 79 homicides in the city so far this year, a number that's nearly double from 2015's 47 homicides to date. According to statistics released in April by the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission, the murder rate was up 69 percent over 2015 and 43 percent over 2006 (the year the commission launched their Operation Safe Community crime-fighting plan).
Those high homicide numbers appear to be skewing the overall violent crime data, pushing citywide major violent crime up by 16 percent from January to March 2016 versus the same period in 2015. And homicides haven't seemed to slow in April or May either.
"It is almost impossible to predict when a homicide will occur. There is no statistical data that will alert us when someone has made the decision to commit murder," said MPD Interim Director Michael Rallings.
Of the 79 homicides so far, 55 of the murders have been solved by the MPD, 42 arrests have been made, and three warrants have been issued for suspects who remain at large. Four of the 79 homicides have been ruled as justified by the Shelby County District Attorney's Office. In 34 of the 79 homicides, the victim and suspect knew one another. Only 11 of the 79 homicides are believed to be gang-related.
"By saying gang-related, I mean the suspect, victim, or both are known gang members, and the homicide occurred due to some type of gang activity," Rallings said.
Rallings said 65 of the 79 murders to date involved firearms.
Memphis Gun Down, a program that launched in 2012 under former Mayor A C Wharton's Innovate Memphis (formerly the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team), has made it a goal to reduce gun violence in the city. The program's 901 Bloc Squad sends reformed gang members into high-crime areas in Frayser, Orange Mound, South Memphis, and the Mt. Moriah corridor to connect with those who are caught up in the gang lifestyle.
"They're trying to show diplomacy and influence these young people who are gang-involved to put their guns down and resolve conflict in other ways," said Memphis Gun Down Director Bishop Mays.
Memphis Gun Down also has a hospital intervention program at Regional One Health, through which they make contact with shooting victims to try and prevent any retaliatory crimes. Additionally, the program offers youth an outlet during the summer through its "twilight basketball" games in the above-mentioned target communities.
"We need to align our resources throughout the city. We can't put everything on the backs of the police officers," Mays said. "We're in a state now where we must pay attention or we will lose a lot of youthful assets in our community. We need to not judge and be willing to reach out to those who will accept help."
Rallings echoed Mays' statement, saying that the police can't curb violence without help from the community. At a press conference last week, Rallings urged citizens to alert police any time they see an altercation occurring or someone suspicious in their neighborhoods.
"It takes everybody working together to make this a safe community," Rallings said. "People are waiting on the police to solve all these problems, but the police are just one aspect. The clergy, everyone in the educational system, and individuals in the community all play a part."