Victims of gun violence discuss mental health impact during public forum in Frayser

Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 10:27 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Talk is great, but we need action. Those words are from the head of the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission during a meeting in Frayser Tuesday night that was focused on ending gun violence.

A major part of the discussion was about something Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner calls “our dirty little secret that nobody wants to talk about.”

Memphian Reginald Johnson stepped to the open mic during the citizens comment period with a heartbreaking story.

“I see no resources for people like myself,” he told the panel of law enforcement leaders and health officials. “I don’t know where to go or what to do.”

Johnson told the crowd that was gathered inside the Pursuit of God Transformational Center that his 21-year-old son Samuel was murdered in 2014. Compounding his grief, Johnson said he just lost his wife to COVID-19 six months ago.

“My life has been torn upside down, losing my son and then losing my wife of 35 years. And I see no resources for a person like myself,” Johnson said.

Dr. Michelle Taylor, director of the Shelby County Health Department and a panelist at the crime forum, said gun violence and the toll it takes on families and the community deserves as much attention in Memphis as the coronavirus pandemic.

“We really do need a convening of mental health resources in our community,” she said. “If we can convene those mental health resources, we can do more than just talk about that we have so many people with mental health disorders in our community. We have a lot of people hurting.”

Bonner, also a member of the panel, met with White House officials who were in the Bluff City earlier in the day to talk about America’s mental health crisis.

“One of the things I told that group that was here from Washington, a third of my population at 201 has some type of mental issue,” said Bonner. “There are mental health issues out there. It’s kind of our dirty little secret and nobody wants to talk about it.”

The Memphis Police Department created the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) program in 1988. It’s now a nationally recognized program used by other police agencies around the country to deal safely and humanely with those who have mental illnesses.

The challenge for the Memphis Police Department is finding new recruits to join the force, which stands at around 2,000 strong right now.

“We are losing officers to other agencies that don’t have other stressors as our city does right now,” Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis told the audience. “But we have some great officers who are in it to win it.”

But victory requires swift action, according to Bill Gibbons, the president of the Memphis-Shelby Crime Commission. Data from the Memphis Police Department show murders are up 14 percent this year over last, and statistics from Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital show child suicide attempts are escalating at a startling pace with 334 so far this year versus 251 in 2020.

“Talk is great, but we’ve got to talk about specific actions that we can take with what I would call health sense of urgency,” Gibbons said. “Because there are too many children growing up in conflict and too many adults, like Reginald Johnson, still waiting for mental health assistance to arrive.

“I don’t know where to go to get help and I am stressed,” Johnson pleaded with the panel.

If you or someone you love needs to talk to somebody immediately, you can dial 211.

The next neighborhood discussion about ending the gun violence epidemic in Memphis and Shelby County is Thursday, November 18 at Riverside Missionary Baptist Church located at 3560 South Third. The meeting is scheduled to run from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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