MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It was about 10:15 on a Friday night, she remembered. That’s when she was held at gunpoint in Cooper-Young by a group of juveniles — the same juveniles police say had just robbed, carjacked and fired shots at several others across the city.
The woman asked us not to release her name to protect her identity.
On February 3, she says she was with a friend new to Memphis, and he agreed to drop her off at her car in a church parking lot in Cooper-Young.
“I look down at my phone for a second. I heard a tap. I looked up. There was an Uzi in his window, and I grabbed his shoulder and went straight down,” she said.
They were surrounded by teenagers. She said they shouted orders while pointing their gun.
“They had it in his back at one point. Then in his stomach at another point and giving him instructions like give me your keys, wallet, phone,” she said.
Police say the teens had committed other crimes that night. They say at least two of them approached a man in an East Memphis neighborhood and tried to rob him. He told police he tried to follow the kids until they fired shots.
Officers say the same teens also carjacked a woman on Laurie Lane and held a gun to her and her children’s face.
They’re also accused of robbing a woman on Hickory Hill Road. The victim told officers she saw AR rifles hanging out of their stolen, getaway car.
“Like just thinking about that this is a constant thing. That when I got contacted from police, you weren’t the only one. We found several purses, several phones, several cars. That’s heartbreaking,” the woman said.
She wants to know why and how these juveniles got to this point.
“How do you explain that to somebody and explain it yourself? I’m trying to defend this city and the people that I love. How do I make sense of what’s happening?” she said.
Police said they arrested two 14-year-olds, a 16-year-old, and a 17-year-old the next day.
Their names aren’t being released since they are juveniles, but we were able to uncover some information from police records and Shelby County Juvenile Court.
The 16-year-old is facing a motor vehicle theft charge. One of the 14-year-olds is facing theft and a gun charge and is out on bond.
The other two are facing an attempted second-degree murder charge as well as three counts of aggravated robbery, two counts of carjacking, and more. At last check, those two were released with electronic monitoring.
“What we really need is what I call a healthy sense of urgency,” Memphis Shelby Crime Commission President Bill Gibbons said.
He said a series of issues must be addressed.
“Right now, our system for community supervision for serious offenders is simply not adequate,” he explained.
Gibbons believes the child should be checked on every day to figure out what they need and get them on the right track. He said there are entities capable of doing that, but it will require funding.
Mayor Jim Strickland told WREG Investigators he and other stakeholders have asked for a piece of a $100 million dollar grant the governor launched for public safety. He hopes to find out soon.
“This $6 million grant will allow us to all partner and focus our attention on these young people and families and meet with them two, three times a week and find out what’s going on,” Strickland said. “Juvenile court doesn’t have the funding. They don’t have the resources for this high volume of juvenile crime.”
Last year, Juvenile Court reported more than 900 juveniles, were assessed and referred to appropriate services. About a third were offered a program called Ceasefire Gun Safety, which aims to divert youth caught with a gun. Some were referred to multiple programs and services.
However, Juvenile Court says they don’t track the outcomes “beyond the interaction of the court.”
“I alone can’t fix this. This system can’t fix it. It’s going to take a concerted effort by those in positions to bring resources to the table,” Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon said.
State lawmakers have also taken up the issue of juvenile justice in an ad hoc committee. They came up with solutions like more mental health services and 200 more secured state beds. No official plan has been passed yet.
Meanwhile, Memphis police said they’re encountering more juvenile suspects. They say 4,000 were arrested just last year, and 70 percent of the children caught stealing vehicles are repeat offenders.
“They know nothing will happen to them, so they can get back out there and do it right over again,” MPD Deputy Chief Stephen Chandler said. “I think it’s their daily lives. There’s just lack of parental oversight. Parents working two or three jobs. Trying to keep their head above water. Lack of community involvement.”
He says intervention has to happen at an early age. The youngest they’ve arrested this year was 9 years old.
“We don’t want them to be wrapped up in a system of incarceration,” Chandler said.
And the woman we talked to doesn’t want to see that either.
“Now it’s come around full circle to where I’m sad again, and I really want them to get help,” she said.
Due to state laws, information is limited on what’s in store for the juveniles she encountered that night. We do know at least one of them has a record. The 17-year-old was arrested twice before in a matter of months totaling 11 charges, mostly for property crimes.
“This isn’t a perpetuated problem. This isn’t new. No this wasn’t dark-skinned kids. There was a white kid as well,” she said. “This is a societal problem until we really find a source of it. It’s a cancer.”
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