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The street code that keeps Memphis homicides from going unsolved

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Several homicides remain unsolved in the same Memphis neighborhoods, and many wonder if a street code is to blame.

On April 17, 2021, 15-year-old Jarvis Triplett was shot and killed on his ATV near Mississippi Boulevard and South Parkway.

Jarvis Triplet

“I don’t know why anyone would want to do this to my child,” his mother told WREG just after it happened.

Yet a year later, her mother has no answers.

Although filming took place on a busy road on a clear Saturday evening, information is limited.

A bulletin from Crime Stoppers says they know the bullets came from a white sedan, but police need help identifying the people inside.

Crime Stoppers Bulletin

Until that happens, it’s one more crime that remains unsolved.

“Boom, boom, boom, boom,” a mother describes the sound she heard across town.

She was too scared to show her face, but told WREG she woke up three times in a week to drive-by shootings in her northeast Memphis neighborhood in February.

He left an injured man and several shell casings in the street.

Stray bullets shattered his car window, went through his house and entered his children’s room.

“The [third time] as we hear the gunshots, we can also hear the sound of our glass breaking,” she described. “We run out of our room not knowing if our children are affected or not. Because like I said, you hear the glass breaking. We jump on it and on the ground. Fortunately, they weren’t hit.

She thinks people know who is responsible but choose to remain silent.

“If anyone knows anything, it’s just disappointing that they don’t care enough about a child’s life to say anything,” she said.

She and others across the city believe this is one of the reasons violent crime continues to occur.

It took months for WREG investigators to uncover 2017-2021 homicide data from the Memphis Police Department.

We have learned that over 700 homicides have been solved, in February about 500 have not. Many unsolved cases are in the same neighborhoods within a few blocks of each other.

When we zoom in on this area which includes Orange Mound, Bethel Grove and other neighborhoods. You can see several unsolved homicides within a two mile radius.

Zoom in on the map below and click on the markers for details on solved and unsolved homicides since 2017.

“The snitches have stitches”

“We have to do better with each other,” said activist Keith Leachman. “They have this thing about snitches that have stitches and a lot of people, you know, if you see something, say something.”

Leachman urged people to speak out against the violence in Orange Mound where he believes there is a street code that encourages people not to cooperate with police. This may be due to fear of retaliation or distrust of law enforcement.

Ricky Floyd thinks the code also exists at Frayser where he is a pastor.

“We have to get rid of this no-harm policy,” Floyd said.

Three homicides last year near his church in North Watkins remain unsolved.

“We have unfortunately formed a culture in too many inner cities where we protect the criminal now,” he said.

Even in the most ruthless crimes, like the murder of a toddler.

Laylah Washington

Laylah Washington was shot and killed in a car on a busy road in Hickory Hill. Detectives have repeatedly asked the public for information.

“You’d think that an innocent two-year-old with her whole life ahead of her, someone would be so outraged that the phones would blow up. Especially thanks to CrimeStoppers and that just didn’t happen,” said the Major MPD Darren Goods in 2017.

It took two years for investigators to finally get the tip they needed to make an arrest. Of them. Years.

WREG investigators asked Memphis police what needs to be done to get people to speak up.

“I think we just need to have better interaction with the police and citizens. The trust factor is a big problem. We know that,” Memphis Police Maj. Webb Kirkdoffer said.

He said there are many reasons why the crimes remain unsolved.

“The time of day, if there are cameras, how many witnesses you had, what they saw,” Kirkdoffer said.

But he thinks those pockets of unsolved homicides on the map are just a coincidence.

“I’m not sure there is any street code that would prevent good citizens from coming forward and giving us information about any type of crime,” he said. “I think the good law-abiding citizens of this city don’t follow any codes. I think if they have information, they call us and give it to us.

The Memphis police adopted methods such as CrimeStoppers allow the public to report information.

A good start according to a US Department of Justice report.

He notes nationally that there is a “mixture of factors” that keep communities silent, such as “racial disparities”, “failures in the criminal justice system” that allow dangerous criminals to “continue to walk in the street” and the lack of police protection if the attacker gets outside.

We don’t know what advice, if any, was provided to police in Tripplett’s murder or in the drive-by shootings in this mother’s neighborhood. According to the police, the two investigations are still ongoing.