Starting Thursday, we’re using our voice at WREG News Channel 3 to move toward a Gun Safe Memphis.
That means making sure gun owners take steps to lock up their guns, and making sure they don’t get into the wrong hands — either the hands of young, innocent kids or into the hands of criminals.
This includes raising awareness about the problem, seeking solutions and holding those accountable in charge of change.
We start with an in-depth view of where we are and how we can get to a better place, speaking with two Memphis natives who’ve made it their mission to help children, because anyone doing the work will tell you: a gun safe future starts with the young people of today.
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Brian Tillman knows what it’s like to lose a loved one to gun violence.
His sister Cynthia Tillman was shot and killed in May of 1990 in South Memphis.
Dumped and left for dead. Police have yet to find the killer.
Tillman says his mother died with the pain of never knowing the truth.
“As a parent, to think in your mind that somebody took your child and threw them in the trash like they were garbage, and never be brought to justice, she never recovered,” he said.
And in the 32 years since Tillman lost his sister, he’s seen even more effects of gun violence.
“I was shot, I was shot in the face,” he said. “I have a bullet up against my artery leading to my brain so like, I’ve experienced, I’ve experienced it from the inside of laying in a prison cell.”
Tillman was locked up for more than a decade. But, now as assistant director for the violence intervention group 901 Bloc Squad, Tillman uses his story to steer other young people toward a different path.
“Every aspect of the process, I’ve been blessed by the grace of God to have lived through it, so I didn’t go through it for me,” Tillman said. “God allowed me to overcome it so I could tell my testimony, my story to try to save some of these young men and young women.”
It’s work that’s much needed in a city that’s seen an 85% increase just this year in youth arrested for gun charges.
“The mindset of the youth growing up in the city right now, it’s alarming, it’s really really scary, because what we come across right now is, these kids have no regard for human life, for safety, not even their own,” Tillman said.
Case in point, carjackings, which Tillman says are about much more than the car that gets stolen.
“It’s not just a car. What is it? It’s finances,” he said. “How do you expect for a kid that’s 15 or 16 years old to work to at McDonalds for six months to make $10,000 when he can carjack a person for a scat pack and sell the motor for $10,000 in 30 minutes?”
► For more stories, see the Gun Safe Memphis page on WREG.com.
So, if the ultimate goal is money, Tillman says part of the solution must include financial opportunities.
“If you teach a kid a skill, he can feed himself for a lifetime with that skill,” he said.
In the same South Memphis zip code where Tillman grew up, where his sister was killed three decades ago, more than eight out of 10 children live in poverty today.
“If we’re ever going to see a way out of this, this gun violence that we’re into, we’ve got to change what we’re doing,” said Dr. Altha Stewart, a psychiatrist who is the director of the Center for Youth Advocacy and Well Being at UT Health.
That change must start early, Stewart said.
“Assessing a child and saying they’re at risk is one thing. Assessing a child, saying they’re at risk and designing an intervention to pull them off the ledge, that’s where I want us to get,” she said.
The center works with children with mental illness, trauma, those being pulled into gangs or already in the system.
“Think of what we’re experiencing now as a tree and the roots underground,” explained Stewart.
Poverty, structural racism, housing instability and food insecurity represent what’s at the roots of the tree, Stewart said. What branches out are problems like gun violence.
“Hurt people, hurt people,” she said. “And if we can do the kinds of things that will change it for their future and ours, maybe we can really see the needle move on this.”
Collaboration between parents, police, legislators, the justice system, change makers and the entire community is needed, so 30 years from now, fewer families like Tillman’s are dealing with the impact of gun violence.
Tune in the WREG News Channel 3 all day Thursday for a look at how to make Memphis gun safe.