Fly on the Wall

Divide and Conquer
Incorporation fever is spreading like kudzu in Shelby County. Aintree Farms, a subdivision with less than 300 residents, is exploring the option of incorporating independently of New Forest Hills, which includes Aintree Farms and has already filed a petition to incorporate.
It may seem that things have gotten out of hand, but this latest development points to a novel way Memphis might deal with the incorporation issue.
Encourage it.
Just promote the hell out of it.
Aintree Farms is already precariously close to the 225-person minimum the new law sets for incorporation. All Memphis needs is a snappy marketing campaign that promotes incorporation as the coolest thing since Surge, and maybe a few PR moles to get out there and encourage smaller and smaller areas to seek cityhood. The suburbs will splinter, and the areas seeking incorporation will become too small to comply with the law. It's as simple as that.

Speaking of incorporation, the champion of the controversial bill that makes it easier, Lt. Governor John S. Wilder, was honored earlier this month in Fayette County. The honor? The John S. Wilder Walking Track, which presumably will help people get in shape for the big walk out of Memphis.

No, You're the Dummy
It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it looks like this alter-ego thing has gone too far.
Memphian Anfernee Hardaway, an important player in the Nike stable of professional athletes, needed a push. The shoe giant decided that Hardaway, a fairly quiet, low-key player, needed a smack-talking alter ego. Thus was born Li'l Penny, a pint-sized puppet who looks like Hardaway, but with the personality and voice of comic Chris Rock, who became the star of a series of Nike commercials.
Now Crown Publishers has just announced the December publication of a "tell-all" book, Knee-High & Livin' Large: The World According to Me, allegedly penned by Penny's diminutive doppelganger. Creepy, we say. Particularly since Hardaway plays for the Magic, a team that shares its name with the 1978 Anthony Hopkins movie about a ventriloquist who is driven to murder by -- well -- his diminutive doppelganger. Who could really blame him?

Gorilla Raid
A few weeks ago a 40-foot-tall inflatable blue gorilla was stolen at the Kids Count festival at the Agricenter. Known as "Big Blue," the gorilla was a promotional gimmick for Blockbuster Video, which issued press releases looking for the great ape.
We're happy to report that the story has a happy ending, as the deflated gorilla was found a few days later -- presumably to the horror of many impressionable youngsters -- on the playground of Willow Oaks Elementary school, filthy but otherwise undamaged.


City Reporter

Domestic Violence Law Can Backfire On Victims

by Jacqueline Marino

A1995 law that cracks down on domestic abusers has resulted in an unexpected, troubling increase in the number of women arrested for domestic assault in Memphis.

Because 95 percent of domestic violence incidents are perpetrated by men, no more than 5 percent of people arrested for domestic abuse should be women, according to the National Center on Women and Family Law.

But since May, the Memphis Police and Shelby County Sheriff's departments have arrested an average of 333 people per month for misdemeanor domestic assaults, and 18 percent of them are women. That's up from 11.5 percent in 1995.

Prosecutors, victims' advocates, and others who work with abused women in Memphis find the trend disturbing because it means victims are being arrested.

"I would say some of them are victims," says Mary Thorsberg, an assistant district attorney who prosecutes domestic abusers. "Some women have been so victimized that they do lash out at their attackers. We do look at those cases another way."

Since the 1995 law, Catherine Jones, a court advocate with the YWCA, has seen more victims of domestic abuse prosecuted for assaulting their attackers. Ill-advised women plead guilty. Then, with criminal assault on their records, they can lose their jobs or even their children. One thing they certainly lose is their faith in the criminal-justice system.

"It makes them feel as if the legal system is not on their side," Jones says. "They've already been victims at home. Then they've been victimized by the system."

The number of domestic-violence arrests increased from about four a day to about 10 a day after the 1995 law went into effect, says Bill Powell, administrator for Shelby County Pretrial Services. The law strongly encourages police officers to arrest perpetrators of crimes involving domestic abuse, regardless of the victim's wishes. A decline in domestic-related deaths from 55 in 1994 to 23 in 1996 has been somewhat attributed to the so-called "preferred response" law.

But the law can also work against abused women. When police arrive at the scene of a domestic dispute, it's often unclear who started the altercation. Only a few Memphis police officers have received special training in how to determine the primary aggressor in a domestic-violence dispute.

"Often they arrest both partners because they don't know who really hurt who," says Anna Whalley, clinical coordinator for the Shelby County Government Victims Assistance Center.

In some jurisdictions, the police have the technological capability to tell if either partner has a history of domestic abuse, but not in Memphis.

"It's hard to tell who the attacker is because the officers don't know the history at the scene," says Betty Winter, manager of the MPD's Family Trouble Center. "They look at the stories and the injuries and make a judgment.'

Meg Jones, director of the YWCA's Abused Women's Services, is concerned because the number of women being arrested here is higher than the national average. "But I think a lot of this is that our domestic-violence court is new, the police department's domestic-violence unit is new, and it's going to be a matter of time until the police get the training and experience they need to understand this,"she says.

Over the last two years, a groundswell of support for prosecuting domestic abusers and helping their victims has resulted in the passage of tougher domestic-violence laws, a court that handles only domestic-violence cases, and plans for a special domestic-violence unit within the Memphis Police Department.

"I think there are problems that need to be ironed out," says Meg Jones. "But mandatory arrest is a step in the right direction."


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