Community activists say city isn’t taking enough action regarding homicide rate

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The rising homicide rate has a lot of people angry. They say if the city has a plan in place to stop the killing, they don't see any evidence of it.

The number of Memphis murders climbs to a new record high.

A Memphis mom was gunned down while delivering pizzas to earn extra money.

A record store owner in his 80s killed in his shop for a few bucks.

A music teacher killed during a home invasion and a day later, a Cordova teenager studying to be a police officer was shot and killed at a party.

WREG sat down with three community activists about the recent crime and homicide rate.

They said they spent too many hours working to curb violence in various neighborhoods and are now feeling abandoned.

"We need to see more of our city officials out here. Boots on the ground. Knocking on doors. Talking to these people," said Bridget Bradley with Memphis Mothers Against Violence. "We are having all these community meetings and talking and talking. We need boots on the ground."

They claim part of the problem: they don't see city leaders enough in their communities affected by the murders and violence.

"Many of our children don't even know who their district councilmen are," said Towanna Murphy who works with domestic violence victims. "I'm angry. I'm frustrated. I'm tired."

Keith Leachman with Stop the Killing Cut the Beef feels the same.

"You won't come out and get with me and go to the trenches of these things," he said. "I'm not going to keep putting my blood, sweat and tears in, you know on fixed income, and they're not putting it back in the hood where it need to be at."

Mayor Jim Strickland ran on curbing crime and said he spent much of his first year taking real steps to fight it like expanding youth programs and hiring more officers.

"Police cannot prevent a murder or a burglary from happening," said Councilman Berlin Boyd.

Boyd will work more with the mayor next year as chairman. The issues he sees: poverty, mental illness and education.

"As a leader you wish you had a solution or quick fix to resolve it. We need to really evaluate the way we are doing things," he said.

We reached out to Director Michael Rallings as well. So far, we have not heard back.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland released the following statement by email Monday:

Like every other Memphian, my heart sank at today's news about our record number of homicides in a single year. And that reaction was not simply at the news itself -- but at the thought that these are individual Memphians who won't be coming home. We must remember that throughout all of this, we should be grieving. But it is also on us at city government to be acting. And I want to remind you what we're doing to fight not just this crime but all crime:

1.      We are actively working to recruit and retain police officers. We've addressed pay and benefits concerns with officers, and we are committed to additional steps to better compensate them. We've aggressively recruited more than 2,000 applicants to join our police department. We need more officers, and we're getting there.
2.      We need stiffer penalties for violent crimes. (In the most recent legislative session, in fact, we successfully lobbied for a tougher domestic violence law.) You'll see more of my support for those efforts in our upcoming legislative agenda.
3.      We need to intervene in the lives of more young people. We got off to a solid start in 2016, but we know we must continue to ramp up. We're close to securing more partnerships and the ability to help more young people choose the right path.
Those items are significant parts of the anti-crime plan on which I ran for mayor. And we're full partners in the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission's most recent Operation: Safe Community plan.

We've had effectively the same number of serious crimes committed this year than in 2015. Yet our homicide rate has taken this tragic, shameful spike. It is the crime that the police are least able to control. It is on all of us, in our homes, our neighborhoods, and our churches, to do better. To resolve conflict better. To make choices that preserve life. As mayor, I think it's important to be calm and diplomatic. But on this issue, today, I can't. I'm angry. I'm mad. I'm furious for our city. That's why I want to say this: If you are a criminal, if you intend to do harm, Michael Rallings and our police department are coming after you. I hear often from people who live in our neighborhoods who are tired of not feeling safe. They deserve better. And that's why we've spent so much of our first year in office taking real steps to fight crime.
Memphis has too much momentum, too much good, too many amazing people, for this to be our norm.