Pair of pandemics: Memphis faces increasing murder numbers as COVID spreads

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s become increasingly clear over the last few months that Memphis is dealing with not one, but two pandemics.

Murder in Memphis is on the rise amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been well over 10 years since we’ve been at this point in midyear,” said Bill Gibbons, president of the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission said.

The crime commission has documented 113 homicides halfway through 2020

“And I do think there is a connection between our violent crime rate, in particular murders, and the fact that we have been in the middle of a pandemic,” Gibbons said.

Dr. Jeff Warren has seen the evidence both from his medical practice and from crime stats that cross his desk as a Memphis City Council member.

“When you have more stress on a group of people, you’re going to have more issues here,” Dr. Warren said. “The fact that the murder rate is up is an example of what COVID is doing to their community.”

“They aren’t able to do their normal activities,” Gibbons said. “Their family lives have been changed considerably. Many are now without jobs. And when you add all that up, a lot of individuals who probably had short fuses to begin with have even shorter fuses now.”

“We’ve got to be equally safe from violent crime and from COVID,” Dr. Warren said. “So we know what to do to be safe from COVID. Let’s put our mask on. Let’s keep our six-feet distance. Let’s wash your hands. We know how to do that. The more difficult question may be, how do you stop people from killing each other?”

“I’m not alone in saying our violent crime problem is, really, long-term, our biggest challenge,” Gibbons said.

“If you can lower the murder rate, you can start to see economic growth and development,” Dr. Warren said. “You have money left over for schools and for programs after school and all these other things that you’re now having to spend on the police.”

The two pandemics, though vastly different, both have disastrous consequences if we’re unable to get them under control.

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