Report #1209010656ME – translation: another homicide by way of gun.
The Memphis Police Department issued a release on Wednesday night (Sept. 19), with it reaching the newsroom of The New Tri-State Defender at 7:58:52 p.m. It was short and painfully familiar, ending with the notation that an investigation is ongoing and a plea from homicide investigator for "someone to come forward with information to help solve this crime."
The particulars: At approximately 3:50 p.m., officers responded to 810 Western Park on a shooting call. On the scene, they located a male on the ground in the park behind the Westwood Community Center with multiple gunshot wounds. Paramedics pronounced the victim deceased. No positive ID had been made, and no info was available on the suspect at the time.
At 5:36:26 p.m., the office of Mayor AC Wharton Jr. had issued an emotionally charged press release underlining the importance of the Gas for Guns event held this past Saturday (Sept. 15) at Bloomfield Baptist Church, where the Rev. Ralph White is pastor. It was about the shooting on Western Park.
As the mayor was issuing his statement, White was rushing back to the church at 123 S. Parkway West for his weekly Bible study class after turning in a pair of pistols he had just retrieved from an angry mother.
Gas for Guns drew more than 500 weapons from members of the general public, who took advantage of the opportunity to turn in a firearm without penalty and no questions asked in exchange for a $50 gas card and a pair of Memphis Grizzlies tickets. White said Wednesday night that he had just been contacted by police in Jackson, Miss., about planning an event there. He was processing that thought along with the frantic call for help received from the woman who had just found her son's guns and wanted White to come get them right away.
"She told me they belonged to her 17-year-old son and she would not have them in her house one minute longer," said White. "I usually would tell her to call the police to come get them, but she was demanding that somebody come get them right away. So I retrieved them and turned them in to police."
White's day illustrates the message in Mayor Wharton's release, printed here in its entirety:
"Once again, I find myself having to say that my thoughts and prayers go out to yet another family. Once again, we find ourselves wondering why. Once again, we are in mourning for a teenager who has been shot on the streets of Memphis.
Forgive me, because my thoughts and my prayers do go out to the family and friends of this young man. Heaven help them in this dark time.
"But it is intolerable that this continues to occur on our streets, near our homes, and in our neighborhoods.
"This is why, when Bloomberg Philanthropies approached me with an opportunity to work on an urban challenge, I chose the issue of youth gun violence. This is why we've worked with the federal government, local partners, and cities across the country to find solutions. And this is why, just last week, we offered 'Gas for Guns.'
"But it's clear we must redouble our efforts.
"The Courts must set higher bail for firearms cases. We must have harsher sentences for violent offenders. We must mentor our children and show them there is a road that leads away from a violent lifestyle. We must provide them with opportunities to advance.
"And we must have your help. Violence should not, and cannot, be tolerated by this community."
White pledged to follow through and try to help extend the Gas-for-Guns effort to Jackson. Saturday's event was held from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. By the first hour, Bloomfield looked like a spot where the next iPhone was going on sale. A stream of cars kept a steady flow and people were strolling up as broadcast media pumped out the news to the public.
The blue flashing lights of about a dozen police cars created a safety perimeter around the church, and gave an instant marker to people driving up looking for the location. A special unit of officers wearing bright yellow safety vests escorted citizens to the collection line as Bloomfield volunteers in bright red shirts directed people where to go.
Mayor Wharton looked like a bouncing cursor on a computer screen as he moved from one media outlet to another, urging people to participate in language that may have surprised many with its directness.
"It's not about snitching anybody out, that's not our concern," Wharton told WDIA personality Bev Johnson's listeners. "It's about making your home safer and this community safer. That's one less gun somebody could get hurt with."
Including a boost by City Councilman Myron Lowery, gun trade-ins in various forms have been conducted throughout the city for years. Saturday's gathering included a seminar dubbed "Done with Guns," sponsored by Lowery. The Gas for Guns sponsors were Ron Kent of Chow Time and China Inn Restaurants, Mapco, MPD, Mayor Wharton, Clear Channel, the Memphis Grizzlies and The New Tri-State Defender.
White did not temper his words as he discussed why the Riverside community needed to be the focal point for Gas for Guns.
"This is a great event, and for those who say it won't reach the criminal element, at least it's another gun they won't have the opportunity to steal," said White.
"And it can reach them. We had a group of them come into the church recently, about eight of them. One young man led them, and I gave them a strong sermon about the sagging pants, the whole nine yards. They won't be interacting with the guys across the block or the gang across the street when they're out there trying to find a job and make a real living."
Today, "we are perishing in the midst of knowledge," said White. "They have got to wake up to the fact that the media they love is not the real world. This is the media age and they have to compete now in a society that is learning how to compete again; they don't have time for none of this foolishness."
The Church community, White added, "is too consistent in its being inconsistent. We can't just do this on an event basis. We have to become this vigilant all the time. If every church would start leading a program like this in their community, we will make an impact. The real gangbangers are going to stay home today and then come out tonight when we leave, but we have to be consistent and that's what we are trying to do."
A woman talking while standing in line at the Kroger in the Southgate Shopping Center encapsulated it well.
"I'm sick of all these fools shooting every night," she said. "We've been poor before, but we've never been this stupid."