Behind the Headlines — September 12, 2012

Behind the Headlines — September 12, 2012


(female announcer)
This is a production of WKNO-Memphis. Production funding for
“Behind the Headlines” is made possible in part by.. The mayor, district attorney
and police tonight on “Behind the Headlines.” [theme music] I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of the Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. We’re joined tonight by a number
of folks talking about the mob attack this past week. First up, Mayor A.C. Wharton
from the city of Memphis. Thank you for being here. Thank you. Good morning. Jim Harvey, deputy chief from
the Memphis Police Department. Thank you for being here. Thank you. Good morning. Amy Weirich, Shelby County
district attorney general. Thank you for being back. Of course. And Bill Dries, senior reporter
with the Memphis Daily News. We start. We’ll talk big picture and we’ll
talk small picture on this. Um, but I wanted to
start really with the first, your first reaction,
Mayor A.C. Wharton. When you saw the video, I mean
your first sort of unfettered reaction upon seeing it? Um, horror, distress, nothing
positive about it what so ever. There was nothing
positive about it. Every negative
adjective you can think of. Every hurtful
adjective you can think of. Those were the emotions I felt. And as you know, I’ve
been around a long time. But any act like that is bad. But when you see young folks
perpetrating such an act like that, you say, gee whiz. I’m just like any other citizen. It was where in the
world are we going. What’s happening? Your thoughts when you saw it
just as a person who lives in Memphis and has
worked here and so on. Your first initial reactions. Well first, as a
parent, I was thinking, you know, how can
these kids be out there, uh, and their parents not know
what they’re doing or where they are. I’ve got a 16-year-old and a
12-year-old and they don’t leave our house without us knowing
who they’re going to be with and where they are. And District Attorney Weirich,
you are in a position where you can’t comment
specifically on the case. But I don’t know if you can say. I mean you’re a
citizen of the area. I mean you see the video. Did you have a reaction
and can you comment on that? Well, of course. I think we all did. And first and foremost, the
reaction was let’s get to work and apprehend these individuals
and bring them to justice. And thankfully the Memphis
Police Department working with the sheriff’s office and our
multi-agency gang unit and our office worked around the
clock to make that happen. Okay. Let’s walk through some
details and the status of the investigation and what
we know has happened. I don’t know if I should turn
to you maybe for some of this. But as of right
now, this is Friday. How many people
have been arrested? Um, I believe we had, um 11. We’ve got, uh, 10
juveniles and one adult. He was a 19-year-old. Do you expect to
make further arrests? Yes sir, we’re still
looking, still investigating. We have some parents that have
come forward and told us that their children were
at the Kroger lot. Those are being investigated. And we’ll continue to go
out and question people. Do you feel like you’ve got
the main instigators or just the first 11 that you’ve got to? No, I think we’ve got
the main instigators. But we are still looking in to
it to see who else may have been involved and taken an
active role in that fight. Again, just some more details. Varius numbers of how
many kids were involved, how many young
people were involved. Is it 120 or do we
have a better number? We don’t have the exact counts. I mean you’d have to have a
camera system that was able to look at the whole lot. But, uh, we’re hearing
initial reports were 100. Will there be other videos? You bring up video. I mean I’ve heard
people expect, like, Kroger probably
has security videos. All we’ve seen so far is
the hand-held camera phone. But are there other videos? Yes, there will be other videos. Will that come out
for people to see? I’m sure it will
after the investigation. Have you seen it? I have not. Has anyone? Have you seen the other video? Or I don’t know if you can. No, I went to the store and
just looked out at the camera. But I have not. This was right.. Well, the day
after the incident. They were retrieving it. It had not been
retrieved when I was there. Okay. Just a couple more details. Was it a gang activity? Is it classified
as gang activity? I don’t think so. I think it’s a group of kids
that had been going to Cici’s. And through social media, they
collectively went to Cici’s to eat. And as teenagers sometimes
do, they got out of hand. There was talk that
there was a fight, that there was going to be a
fight between two groups of girls, women. That’s my understanding. That’s the way it originated. And there was a police officer
who came to break that up? Yes, sir. But then it got out of hand
before the police officer contained 125, 120 plus people? I think that what he did was
ran them off from the Cici’s. And he stayed at the
Cici’s and maintained presence. They moved across to the Kroger. And, um, you know, from
where his vantage point was, he was unable to see
anything else that was going on. Okay, alright. Bill? Mayor, this seemed
kind of different, at least to my ear and in
terms of your reaction, because you went straight to
the parents on this and said, okay, if you can do this the
easy way or you can do this the hard way. You can help us out on this and
there will be some understanding that we know these things do
happen from time to time in terms of your kids saying
they’re going to be some place and doing something and then not
doing what they said they were going to do. Um, how did that work and have
parents involved in this — not involved in this but
parents of these children, have they responded the way
that you had hoped they would respond? Yes, uh, some of them did. In fact, I have spoken
with, um, one parent. I received messages
from three other parents. I made it clear to them that I
cannot get in to how the case is going to go. But I can express the wishes
of the citizens of the city of Memphis. Should as it moves through the
prosecutory process and when judicial officials get
ready to make a disposition, if they were to ask what
does the Mayor feel about it on behalf of the citizens. But I can’t get in to, uh, the
actual handling of the case. But, uh, the parents did. Some wanted to explain, um, more
fully what was going on in the lives of these. But the key thing
is I just said, well, thanks for
getting your child. And that’s as far
as I can go now. So, it did accomplish what
Director Armstrong and I wanted to get out there is that don’t
wait for the police officers to show up to bring your kid. You’re looking at that screen. It is just unthinkable that you
would sit there and look at your kids and say, well, they
might come to get you. If you’re any kind
of parent at all, and fortunately these
individuals knew that as bad as it may seem but it was their
responsibility to make sure, uh, that their children,
um, were surrendered to the authorities. And they did. Chief, in terms of the
dynamics of the crowd like this, is it possible that this thing
takes on a life of its own that probably no one foresaw, much
less someone who’s 15 or 16 years old? I think there was a segment of
that crowd that was probably, um, the
beginnings of the trouble. Just, you know,
regular trouble makers. And the excitement that grew in
the crowd is what spawned that riot. Go ahead. I want to make one thing clear
because the viewers are going to parse every word we say here. Sure. And the first thing I want to
say from the city of Memphis that there’s just
absolutely no excuse, no understanding of knocking a
human being down and kicking him or her in the head. That’s the key thing. No matter what’s going
on in your household, there’s no way in the world that
we can in any way insinuate, imply that, well, you just have
to understand kids will be kids. That is absolutely not the
case and that’s going to be the position that the
city of Memphis, this police
department will take. Now, if somewhere when they get
ready to dispose of the case, if some judge wishes to
say, I want to look at all the circumstances, then that’s
a totally different matter. Okay. Let’s talk about to
the degree we can. Will these kids, we say, be
tried in the juvenile court? Will this be handled? Will they be treated as adults? Is something you can
comment on at this point. Well, we’re bound by the law
of the state of Tennessee. And to transfer a child from
juvenile court to 201 Poplar to be tried as an adult,
certain things have to exist. They either have to be a
certain age or they have to have committed a
certain list of crimes. So, um, we will
take a look at that. I’ve read the entire file. The police department has
delivered everything that they have to our office. And we’re pouring over that
and making those decisions. But bottom line, at the end of
the day whether these cases are disposed of all in
juvenile court or some at 201, some at juvenile court, the
mission of our office and the responsibility of our office
is to not only seek justice for those victims on the parking lot
but for the entire community. And every case is different. Every one of these
juvenile offenders, what they did, the
histories, their records, their lack of records, all
of that takes a part in the decisions that we make
as how best to handle it. Two questions for you. One, the idea of a hate crime. People have said this
should be a hate crime. This should be tried. This should be looked
at as a hate crime. You have said I think
this is not a hate crime. Define what is and is not a
hate crime and if you can, why this doesn’t
meet that criteria. We don’t have a hate
crime statute in the state of Tennessee. What we do have is a civil
rights intimidation statute. And ironically enough, this week
one of our prosecutors has been trying a civil rights
intimidation case where the accusations are someone was
posing as a police officer and targeting the hispanics
and threatening to have them deported if they
didn’t do certain things. So, you have to have an
individual that was targeted because of their
race, their ethnicity, their national origin and
religion and a constitutional right that they have was denied. So, we don’t have a hate crime
statute and the facts of this case as we know them
on Friday morning, September 12 don’t fit. But do you have enough tools at
your disposal whether or not? So, this isn’t a hate
crime or a civil but it’s, there is plenty to work with in
terms of holding these people accountable? Other statutes? Of course, yes. And the second when
you look generally, maybe not specific or
not specific to this case. When you look at someone, adult
or juvenile gets arrested after a horrible crime,
a violent crime, and you see that they’ve had a
record and that they’ve been through the system and that
your folks maybe have seen it, does that make you despondent? Does it make you frustrated? Do you just have to
accept that that happens? Because I think that’s something
people look at is repeat offenders in Memphis, anywhere. And why didn’t we know? We could have told. We could have seen that this
person was going to get more and more violent. Why didn’t the justice system do
more to keep them behind bars? Most of the offenders that we
dispose of at 201 Poplar are going to serve their
sentence out on the street. It’s a very small segment of
the population of criminal defendants that are actually
going to do their time behind bars. Uh, the criminal justice
sentencing guidelines are written so that people.. So, that’s the first thing
that the judge looks to. When you’re
talking about juveniles, it’s even more a focus and a
mission of the juvenile courts, which is to not detain, not to
hold them in custody but do what we can while they’re out in
the community to get them on the right track. Is it frustrating? Of course, it is. Tennessee unfortunately has one
of the highest recidivism rates in the country. But we’re working on that
locally and on the statewide level to try to get
a handle on that. Okay, Bill? Mayor, to what degree do you
think the discussion about is this a hate crime or is
this not a hate crime.. Do you think that gets us to the
core of this issue or does it move us away from the
core of what happened here? Bill, unfortunately I think it
moves us away from the core of what happened. The basic question that
we, particularly in the city government, have to ask. Have we discharged our
responsibility to make sure that there’s wholesome
supervised activity? We can’t all lock our
children in the house. Chief Harvey just said his
children go out but he knows where they are. It’s just you don’t want
your children caged up. Have we done enough to make sure
that there are constructive, wholesome outlets for them? We need to search and see if
we have done enough on that. We need to search and see
if there’s a way for us, as someone alluded to earlier,
to detect anti-social conduct early and make sure that
children whether they’re in the school system or where ever are
dealt with before it gets to the level of a parking lot. Those are the more stubborn
issues that we ought to be focusing on. We take one case, one
law, which is what the D.A. has to do. She doesn’t make
social policy out there. For my part, it allows us to get
off the hook to deal with these broader issues. So, you’re absolutely right. And quite frankly, I haven’t
practiced the law in a long time. I think the
statutes that the D.A. has at her
disposal probably would, uh, give a more
stringent sentence than the, uh.. In other words, focus on the
charges that are on the books if you want to lock somebody up. As the D.A. just pointed out,
the laws are there already. They’re definitely tougher
today than they were five, six, seven years ago for 100%
service of sentence and for, um, certain classifications of
violent offenses are treated much more toughly. So, that’s a step in
the right direction. We also have two court rooms
at 201 Poplar and a team of prosecutors that do nothing
but handle repeat violent felony offenders to bring that sense of
comfort to that community and to send the message that we’re
not going to tolerate it. And just to be clear, the
charges we’re talking about here are aggravated riot. Yes, which is an E felony. So, it’s punishable from
one year to six years. And aggravated assault, which is
a C felony punishable from three to fifteen years. Okay. Again, knowing that obviously
this case is still unfolding and there are things you
cannot comment on, do you know yet if this will
be a case of all are charged as adults or some are
charged as adults, some are charged as juveniles? Yeah, it won’t be that easy
because we have to look at each offender and what
they’re charged with, their age, whether it’s a crime
that even qualifies for us to ask a juvenile court
judge to transfer them. It’s not just a matter of
the community wants them transferred,
let’s transfer them. There’s certain elements that
have to be proven and either their age has to be 16 or
over or if they’re under 16, they have to have committed
certain enumerated offenses in the statute. Chief, obviously, again, this
is an ongoing investigation. But how much are you hearing
about the element of surprise among some of the young folks
who were not the trouble makers that your offices
have talked to? Um, I have not heard
anything along those lines. Um.. Yeah, yeah. And obviously, this is a
large group of people that we’re dealing with here. One of the parents
that called me was just, I mean, shocked to the point
that she could barely talk with respect to how well her
child was doing in school. Had no idea. Again, is that truthful? I don’t know. But, uh, at least one of the
parents expressed just total shock and surprise. When you talk about
tools and, you know, a wholesome outlooks and so on,
people have raised the issue to segue in to curfews. Right now the curfew for
teenagers in Memphis is 11:30. Is there a curfew? Well, it’s.. It depends on their age. And the day. And whether
school is in session. That’s right. Does it need to be tightened? Should it be an earlier curfew? Would that help? Let me speak from the city
standpoint because we’re reviewing that right now. This was a Saturday night. And I believe for
most of these kids, they would have been 11:00. Is that right? Yes. So, the curfew in and of
itself would not have, uh, prevented this. The key thing we have to ask
about the curfew is first of all, are the hours broad enough
because stuff that kids do happens night after night. Yeah because this was
about 9:30 at night, give or take. Right? It was before 10:00 when
the first part happened. It was somewhere
between 10:00 and 11:00. Okay, so a 10:00
curfew would have, I don’t know, given you
guys a little bit more tools. Whether or not that would have
stopped it is a whole different thing. Even if you have a curfew,
you’ve got to ask the more serious questions. What do we do with
the, uh, offenders, violators once
they’re picked up. If the curfew is at 10:00,
you pick them up at 10:20, you’re going to run the
police department and sheriff’s department crazy. You’ll have to have buses. The question is what
do we do after that. And then, we have
to be very careful. We have what is called the
disproportionate minority contact. And let’s just be honest. With the racial
demographics the way they are, you’re going to have a lot
of black and brown kids. And so, we’re under
scrutiny on that. So, the bigger question is
if we extend the curfew, begin rigid enforcement, do we
really wish to take every kid who’s picked up because of a
curfew violation and introduce them in to the criminal justice
or the juvenile justice system? Baltimore did not do that. That’s the model we would
look at if we come to that. They did community centers
and other alternate activities. That is correct. At least in the first instance. They can’t just keep doing that. Eventually they’re going to have
to go after the parents if every weekend your child gets picked
up and taken over to a community center. Somebody’s gotta go
after the parents on that. Right, right. You bring up the
racial component. And there is.. We’ll fumble through this or
I will fumble through this. There is a racial dynamic
at least in the reaction, you know. And forgive me as I,
again, fumble through this. But you look on social media
and you look at comments on news sites. And there are a whole lot of
people who see that video as this, sort of, manifestation. A lot of white people, people
prejudice or what of this is a manifestation of a lot
of fears — an angry mob of, at least in the
video looks like, young black men,
random violence. Is it fair to look at it
through a racial lens? I mean, is race a
component in this? Unfortunately, Eric, in America. And it’s not just
Memphis, Tennessee. Uh, too much of an extent,
everything is still seen through a racial prism. Memphis is no
different from that. And we cannot escape. And the best way to do
it is to hit it head on. And when we see it, do as one of
the victims parents has done and say look, violence is wrong. It’s wrong. It’s wrong whether
it’s black or white. But let’s hit it head on
and then go on and start straightening things out. Race is going to be a factor
that everybody is going to use as they form their
opinions unfortunately. Well, I said everybody. Far too many people. And I say I present
that fear, you know, that you can see people
expressing on social media and so on. But, you know,
the fact, I think, and maybe I’ll turn
to one of you two, it’s not as if — I mean, this
isn’t funny — African-American people aren’t the victim
of African-American crime. I mean, I think actually it’s
disproportionately that really, I mean, most crime committed by
young African-American males, it’s disproportionately high, is
committed on other black people. Is that correct? That’s what the numbers that
the mayor and I and the police department look at on a monthly
basis are youth violence 26 and under. That’s what drives the crime. And the majority of
that is African-American, you know, males and the
victims are African-American. We had African-American victims
on the Kroger parking lot. Let’s not lose sight of that. And also, we talk about
young African-American males. But a number of the people
arrested are young African or young women essentially, yeah. And let’s go to
you for a second. When you talk about that, this
disproportionate number of young African-American men, you’ve
been in the district attorney’s office one way or
another for quite some time. Do you get jaded? Do you get.. Are you able to look at that
without a racial lens when you’re seeing so many young
black men come through and having committed
crimes of all sorts? Do you try to be race blind? Oh, of course. It’s why Lady
Liberty is blind folded. What we’re looking
at are the actions. What we’re looking at is
the conduct before us. How does it fit in to the
law of the state of Tennessee? What do we know
about this individual? Have we made attempts
to rehabilitate them? If we’re going to
put them on probation, what kind of programs, what kind
of things can we ask the judge to order this individual to do
so that we never see them in the system again
regardless of skin color. Right. Some people had said,
um, that, you know, this is a Ferguson moment. I personally don’t see that. It just seems so different. But for you as a police officer,
I don’t know how long you’ve been a police
officer in Memphis. 31 years. I mean, the police department in
Memphis is relatively reflective of the racial
balance of the city, I think. I mean, within, you
know, pretty close. But do you, 31 years and you’re
picking up and arresting a high percentage. just
statistically, young black men. Do you, do other
officers become jaded, become prejudice in some way? Do you have fellow officers,
I’ll assume not yourself, who just begin to view every
young black man through this terrible lens? Um, you know, along with the
attorney general’s office, we try not to be jaded. But there is probably a
certain segment that gets jaded. Um, you do get, uh, aggravated
with locking somebody up and then seeing them back out on the
street the next day after you’ve locked them up 20 or 30 times. And, um, you know, with
state budgets the way they are, there’s just not room to, um,
to house a lot of these people that, um, that are
repeat offenders. Right. And a lot of that frustration is
why we’re looking to other ways to address some of the issues. The gang injunction that was
issued in the Riverside area. Without any officer having
to put handcuffs on anybody, uh, we’ve brought peace to a war
torn segment of our city working with the mayor’s office. And that’s the first time that’s
statutes ever been used in Memphis, Tennessee. And knock on wood,
it’s worked beautifully. Nobody was arrested. But the message was sent to
those that were wreaking havock and, uh, scaring the good
folks of the Riverside area. You’re not wanted here. Take is somewhere else. Dispense of your gang activity. And it’s empowered
that neighborhood. Yeah. And then.. This is why we try to give
officers and the kids on the street an opportunity to
see each other in different circumstances. We’ve started keeping our
community centers open on weekends. Uh, they get to
see officers there. Sometimes the officers out there
are shooting ball with them. To keep the officers
from getting jaded, I mean there are tens of
thousands of kids out there who are doing the right thing. And it’s refreshing to
the officer to see that. It’s also refreshing to the
child to learn that police do more than just come in and
pick up black kids and haul them downtown. We have to do more of that. And we’re doing more of that. We just have a
couple of minutes left. You’ve spoken a
little bit this week. I mean, this hits that kind of
self-doubt that Memphis can have or the stereotypical criticisms
that Memphis is violent. Your message to people from
outside Memphis who have gone on social media and said this is
what happens in Memphis every day, this is what’s
going on in Memphis. Your message to them that about
what is going on in Memphis? Well, the good that’s going on
in Memphis far outweighs the bad. Since the bad for understandable
reason gets the coverage, the headlines. It’s much more intriguing. I always say don’t judge our
city on the first 10 to 12 minutes of the 10:00 news. Uh, on this very week you had
the secretary of education and when you see his picture
looking at the little kids at Cornerstone Prep who
are introducing him. And then the day before that
we had a fellow from the White House this year
talking about education. All of these things
that are going on, the good far outweighs the bad. And that’s just the message
we’re trying to pump out. Real quickly, is
Memphis a safe place to live? Yes. And you? Thirty-one years. Is it a safe place to live? It’s a fun place to
live and to play. If you look at the
numbers in Nashville, it’s, I mean.. I think one thing that hurts
us is we’re far more honest. [laughter] We report it. Alright, we’ll leave it there. Thank you all for being here. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Goodnight. [theme music] CLOSED CAPTIONING
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