Sat. Apr 13th, 2024

Making Memphis’ deadliest ZIP codes safer

By: Jessica Gertler

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — 2020 and 2021 were two of the deadliest years in Memphis history, and WREG found out a majority of the homicides occurred in the same places.

Using data we uncovered from Memphis Police, we found out that in the last two years, 497 homicides were reported within just 10 ZIP codes, out of the city’s more than 28 ZIP codes.

They cover parts of Southeast Memphis, Whitehaven, Northaven, Oakhaven, South Memphis, Raleigh, Nutbush, East Memphis and Frayser.

“I’m not surprised,” Pastor Ricky Floyd said. His church sits in the Frayser ZIP code of 38127.

“The contributing factors are poverty, low education, low transportation,” he said.

There are similarities the 10 ZIP codes share. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income is anywhere from $20,000-$40,000, and in some ZIP codes, about a third live in poverty. A majority of the population is Black, and there’s a large number of single-parent homes.

“Kids aren’t getting attention. Like they are going to school, they come home and act out, because they’re not getting attention from home,” Felicia Howard said.

Howard says there’s not enough positive activities for kids to do in those ZIP codes.

“Back then when I was growing up, we had Celebration Station, the different skating rinks without the violence. You could go and have fun as kids,” Howard said.

She points to areas like 38106 in the South Memphis area, where the most homicides occurred the last two years. The city’s website lists two community centers, several parks and a library, but museums, malls and movie theaters are all a drive away.

38117 in East Memphis, which is similar in population as 38106, has those activities. Police say only four homicides happened there in the past two years.

Homicides by ZIP code

“Absolutely, I’ve seen an increase,” 20-year Memphis resident Barbara Tumblin said about recent violence.

She believes more police patrols are the answer.

MPD leadership says they are allocating resources to the hot spot areas, but admits they are short staffed and officers are overworked. They say hiring more officers is part of a new crime reduction plan recently unveiled.

The plan includes 20 steps, like working to get guns off the street, building more youth programs and increasing employment opportunities for ex-offenders.

“This five-year plan outlines a holistic approach to address quality of life issues, crime prevention and crime reduction in our city,” Chief CJ Davis said.

Shelby County saw a 23% increase in violent crime in 2020, with shootings and murders in Memphis to blame.

In 38127 in Frayser, eight homicides were reported in 2017. In 2020, there were two dozen.

“I don’t want us to overlook the effect COVID had on those crimes,” Floyd said.

Floyd believes COVID stopped positive progress happening in his neighborhood. He says he was forced to close his church and halt programs like youth mentoring. Before COVID, 40 to 50 boys were enrolled. When he opened back up, only 15 to 20 came back.

“There’s 30 boys floating around this community no longer being loved, mentored, encouraged, held accountable and that’s dangerous,” said Floyd. “The drug dealers still had access to them, because the drug dealers didn’t shut down. The gangs didn’t shut down.”

Floyd believes the city’s crime won’t get better until we invest in the areas that are seeing the most crime. Not just with money but with time. He says volunteer work like signing up to mentor a child is vital.

“Don’t think because you don’t touch it and don’t have to deal it, that it’s not going to find its way to you. The criminals are going to get bolder, more aggressive and get confidence to go outside of their comfort zone,” Floyd said.

Police said the violence dipped last fall but can’t tell if that trend is here to stay.

What is clear, is that the violence has become far too common in too many neighborhoods.

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