Saturday, June 10, 2006

Downtown Crime and Its Ignored Midtown Cousin

Paul Ryburn has gotten fired up about crime in downtown Memphis. Actually, you should start with this post before you read the first link.

He details a lot of first-person and eyewitness accounts of the ongoing crime problem there in Manhattan on the Mississippi. It's not all booze and blues down there!

Put as I read further on into the posts, two things struck me. First, the increasing level of (forgive the word) panic. It's like a feedback loop spiralling into that ear-aching squeal. At least part of what's happening is people becoming aware of something in their midst they'd never noticed before and now, having noticed it, they see more and more suddenly. And they also look at the innocent with preconceived fear and see the worst.

Deep breaths, everyone.

The second thing is a bit of jealousy on my part. Look at how quickly his complaints have generated action at the top levels of Memphis. Neighborhood associations are getting involved. One of his readers will help set up a meeting with Memphis Police Chief Godwin. People are angry and ready to do something. Now.

I've been posting about crime on my street in Midtown for nearly two years now. The usual reaction is, "Why haven't you gotten the hell out of there?" Open drug dealing, open prostitution, gunfire in the middle of the street. Not across dozens of blocks of downtown but one block of Monroe! Does anyone email to say they'll hook me up with Godwin?

Nope, it's just a different perception. Midtown is crime-ridden. That's how it's supposed to be. Nothing unexpected there. But Downtown? Hey, that's a lot of money and a lot of the right people down there. Stopping crime is important to the community. It'll reflect badly on us!

The apartment behind me has had squatters in it, stealing electricity from MLGW, for three months. I just found out last week that the building in the middle of the block, where you see more than a dozen people around there every day and all night, lots of drugs and dealing, has only one legal tenant. Everyone else is squatting.

A woman across the street from me stopped paying rent three months ago but she's still there. The drug dealers from the middle of the block have shifted down to her apartment to congregate and deal now. At one point, her one-bedroom apartment (about the size of mine) had three adults, a baby and two full-sized dogs living in it full time! Right now, there's the woman, a friend of hers downstairs who was evicted last month, a prostitute from around the block and a couple of guys living there, and a parade of nearly a dozen guys in and out of the place all day.

I can't walk in or out of the block, especially late at night, without getting scowled at. I've been told over and over that I'm "the snitch," the guy who calls the cops all the time, the guy who's messing up a good thing for the rest. "White motherfucker," I've been called. Supposedly, most of these people think I'm some kind of cop. (HA! Right. Look at my pictures.) It's because I won't speak to them, acknowledge them, let them use my phone, hassle them when they try to hang out on the property.

MLGW knows, but nothing's done. The property managers know; they said something was going to be done on June 1 but nothing's happened other than some apartments being boarded up. But no one's being evicted. The cops drive down the street all the time, and sometimes will stop to make arrests or raids. It just goes on day after day.

The former property managers, Micro Management, let this problem fester without doing anything. Despite repeated requests and calls, they let things slide along. Why? We think money was being passed along, under the table. Why else own rental properties that you don't rent out?

The current managers (I can't name them as I still live under them. But their dark blue signs have been sprouting up all over Midtown in the past month or two.) are even worse. They control six of the seven apartment buildings on the block and the cop house. They refused to renew all monthly leases suddenly last month and have let the remaining folks know that their one-year leases will expire as well. But they've made at least two mistakes, trying to evict people they shouldn't, and they've allowed all kinds of squatters -- drug dealers and their hangers-on -- to stay unmolested. We're being strangled.

I've talked with them many times. It's all smiles and concern but no action. One morning I was talking to one of them as we watched several squatters go in and out of the apartment in back. Nothing.

So, yeah, I do get a bit pissed off that Downtown's week-old "problem" is getting concerted action while our two year-old problem is ignored. It is, to me, emblematic of all that is wrong with Memphis under the Herenton administration. Downtown thrives while Hickory Hood and Killchester die on the vine under a storm of crime.

On the way to the bloggers bash last night I passed a sign on Monroe from a few years back. "Memphis Police Operation Saturation." Remember that, the big anti-crime intiative? Kinda like last month's Operation Safer Communities. Or Operation Blue Crush. I don't fault the police, who are fighting a losing war. They are doing what they can on Monroe within the restrictions of the law.

But it sure would be nice if we had access to our Police Chief and Mayor, to some powerful, connected developers with monied interests to protect, to media attention, and to community concern as well. Who speaks for us? Who cares about us?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Quote of the Day

From a report on the YearlyKos Konvention in Las Vegas, in the "Pundit in Training" workshop:
We were discussing the general pitfalls of shows like Hannity and Colmes, and one trainee pundit spoke up to volunteer that leftist guests “need to have more humor on these shows.” Hmm, I thought. They are learning. There were some murmurs of assent. And then she added, “We need to look at these people who are asking these questions and just ask them, ‘ARE YOU A NAZI?’”
Because, you know, that'll play well.

More hilarity here:
Not everyone in the group found that terribly convincing. “I was just wondering what world you were living in,” said one man who raised his hand, “if you said the America people are smart…”
That'll win votes, too.