Savage City 

Is there any answer to increasing violence, or is a lack of human decency the new normal?

I'm not exactly sure what to write here. It's the wee hours of the morning on the 48th anniversary of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis. My morning routine these days is to wake up at 6 a.m. and watch an hour of local news until the Today show comes on at 7 a.m., and then I switch to that and halfway watch it while talking incessantly to my cats, wondering when I'm going to get the wherewithal to clean up my bedroom, and making sticky notes for my front door reminding me not to leave the house without turning off the coffee pot.

But I'm up a lot earlier than usual this morning because someone sent me a text at 3 a.m. and that was it. Never could fall back asleep. And I wasn't even aware that it was April 4th until I turned on the television. And the only thought racing through my mind, probably like many Memphians my age or older, was what Dr. King would think if he came back for a visit here today.

click to enlarge Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - ZRFPHOTO | DREAMSTIME.COM
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  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

One of the first stories on the news was about a 22-year-old "caregiver," who was arrested for savagely beating the elderly gentleman whose "care" was supposed to have been her job. Somewhere in the midst of all this, she told another of the man's caregivers, who noticed the abuse, "Yeah, I whipped his butt, and I don't care who you go and tell." And then she beat the man again a few days later, sending him to the hospital. I wonder what was and is going through her mind. She should be studied.

As of the end of March, there have been 60 murders in Memphis, twice the rate of Chicago. No telling how many cases of assault, domestic violence, weapons charges, etc. It would be too depressing — for me, anyway — to even know that information, much less compile it.

All you have to do is Google "Memphis church brawl" in Google News and check out one story with a video about a bunch of church members getting into a street fight after they all got out of church, pummeling each other and screaming and ripping each other's clothes off in the street. Go ahead. Watch it.

Shoot-outs at McDonald's. A former Memphis police officer arrested three times for stalking his ex-girlfriend. Man stabbed in South Memphis. Close friends involved in shooting; one dead, one in critical condition. High school student arrested for bringing loaded pistol to school in his backpack. Man arrested for bringing guns to church on Easter morning (and don't even get me started on the legislators trying pass the law to allow guns in church). You know, of course, that it goes on and on and on and on.

I still don't know what to write. I'm just imagining Dr. King being here again and what he would think. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

I don't even know what to think about all this. In some ways I wish all the local media could come to a consensus to at least try not to give the violence in Memphis so much coverage to keep us all from becoming totally desensitized to it, but that certainly wouldn't make it go away. More and better jobs might put a dent in it, just because people wouldn't have so much idle time on their hands to kill each other, and eliminating poverty, at least I think, would help end some of the violence.

I'm not brainy enough to know the answer to all this, although I know there has to be more than one answer. I do think that the entire criminal justice system needs to be shut down and reopened with a whole new plan. Too often it just makes people's situations — and all of our lives —worse. There's little-to-no rehabilitation. Inmates are treated like animals. Guards, or at least a good number of them, are on private power trips or selling things to inmates. Mental illness is disregarded most of the time. The time period between court dates is a joke. And there are so many people in jail for just having been caught with pot it's ridiculous.

So, to all of you people with smarter brains than I have, what are we going to do? Things can't keep going the way they are going. I know Mayor Strickland has at least been talking about these issues. And there are neighborhood associations and other organizations out there working to fix problems.

The thing that scares me the most, though, and that really haunts me, is that too many people don't seem to have a conscience. That may be the problem that will be hardest to fix. Shooting and killing someone over a trivial argument doesn't seem to be unusual or shocking anymore. How in the world does anyone fix that? Do we need another Martin Luther King to dedicate his or her life to nonviolence?

I wonder what he would say.

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