MSARC – The Timeline

I’ve been doing a lot of organizing and digging on the MSARC issue over the past several days. In addition to the audio of the last Executive Session of the Memphis City Council, I’ve been working to create a comprehensive directory of government actions, community activism, news reports, and blog posts dealing with the MSARC crisis. That directory can be found here.

There’s still a lot of work to be done on this resource, including editing and posting the audio from the Memphis City Council meeting that really started up the firestorm. This meeting took place back on May 19th, and was, perhaps, the point at which members of the Memphis City Council, as well as members of the community really lost faith in the Herenton administration’s handling of the problem.

You will remember, May 19th was about 21 days after the first reports of service failures hit the media, and one day after the Mayor announced the partnership with Le Bonheur.

While the partnership with Le Bonheur was seen by some as a step in the right direction, it failed to deal with the adult victims of rape in our community. Child victims of rape make up 50% of the caseload at MSARC. This arrangement left the other 50% and advocates for their care wondering if they would be treated in the event they were victimized.

Further complicating the issue is the de-centralization of victim’s services. Rape is one of the most under-reported crimes in our society. 60% of sexual assault victims never report the crime (Source, RAINN). Victim’s advocates assert that de-centralizing the care of victims of sexual assault further complicates the issue, making the reporting of an already emotionally traumatic crime, even more daunting for the victim.

There were over 200 reported rapes in Memphis each of the last two years. Using the statistics from RAINN this means some 300 victims of sexual assault in Memphis alone never reported the crime (Ed. Note: This is a correction from a previous post where I made a math error in calculating the percentage of under-reports).

Following the announcement by Mayor Herenton, The Memphis City Council, in Executive Session, met with the administrators charged with overseeing MSARC. It was in this meeting that several members of the City Council walked out, due to the lack of response by these administrators.

One could argue that this action, leaving the meeting, was exactly the kind of “political posturing” that the Mayor complained about in June 2nd Executive Session of the City Council. What few have mentioned is that it is the role of the legislative body to oversee the effectiveness of divisions of the executive. The failure to report the actions being taken to rectify the issues at MSARC to the City Council is exactly the same kind of “disrespect” that the Mayor complained he was suffering from at the hands of the media, activists, and politicians.

What is even more remarkable about this reality is that while Mayor Herenton complained about the lack of respect he’d received by these same media, activist, and political figures in his June 2nd appearance before the Executive Session of the City Council, he made no bones about his direction to the directors responsible for MSARC to not answer questions brought by the council. The Mayor wants to have it both ways. He wants to be “respected” but, through this action, does not feel he needs to return this respect to elected officials charged with serving the very same voters that ultimately elected the Mayor.

This brings up an interesting question for the Mayor. Just what would he have the members of the City Council do in the face of an informational blackout from his administration, a service failure that adversely effects the victims of a heinous crime, not to mention complicating prosecutions of those crimes, and a great deal of pressure from the media and advocacy groups whose interest isn’t political, despite the Mayor’s protestations, but aligned with the needs of the victims?

Does the Mayor expect the City Council to ignore its charge of oversight and simply trust him? Why, some 3 weeks after the first media report of the service failures at MSARC would ANY member of the City Council give the Mayor this kind of “blind faith” when his administration had done little to publicly or privately address the concerns of these three groups outside of the, at that time, recently announced partnership with Le Bonheur?

Several commentators have opined that the Council failed to follow protocol, and sought to “go over the Mayor’s head” in their proposals for MSARC. While the talks with County officials on May 22nd by City Council Chairman Lowery may have been viewed as an “overstep”, the reality is that this service failure, and the unwillingness by the administration to address it to those concerned was a three-ring circus in need of a tent, which the Mayor provided.

The truth of the matter is that the Mayor’s “modus operandi” is the VERY THING that helped stoke the flames of outrage in the community, and the VERY THING that continues to sustain it. Internalizing the paths taken, freezing out those who have a vested interest in the eventual solution, and railing against “well connected constituencies” may score the Mayor political points on other issues, but on an issue such as victims services, these protestations largely fall on deaf ears, particularly when the most affected communities exist in the heart of the Mayor’s electoral base.

Herenton completely misses the point when he complains about these “special interest groups” and their “agenda”. Their agenda, despite the Mayor’s perspective, is to ensure that no victim of rape or any other sexual assault goes without the physical and emotional treatment needed for them to heal, not to mention the legal aspect of carrying out prosecutions on a crime that is one of the most difficult crimes on which to gain a conviction.

The Mayor, through his rhetoric, has chosen to personalize the dissent in the community to be about him rather than about serving the victims in the most effective and comprehensive way possible. While most dissent may not have been focused on the Mayor before, his condescending and adversarial posture toward these groups has forced their hand, and helped turn a discussion that should have been about victims to a battle of personalities that never should have entered the conversation. This is a devastating turn of events for the victims.

So here we are now, some 5 and a half weeks since the initial report of problems at MSARC. On Tuesday, the Mayor asserted that the problems have been solved and that MSARC is back up to full operational staffing levels. Unfortunately, the just yesterday ANOTHER instance of a recent failure at MSARC was reported. Mayor Herenton may assert that MSARC is fixed, but unfortunately, the facts don’t support this assertion.

Yesterday, I laid out my argument for moving MSARC to the County. I would ask people who support the movement of MSARC from City to County government to measure their rhetoric carefully. Focusing words around the Mayor’s consistent strategy to make EVERY ISSUE surrounding the City about race or some personal issue only plays into his hands politically. This has been, for some time, an effective strategy for the Mayor, upon which he has won countless elections and political battles. Unfortunately, in this case it leaves out the most important people in the equation, the victims.

Ultimately, that’s ALL this should be about, serving the victims of a crime that is one of the most brutal violations of both their body and a threat to their emotional stability. We can debate whether these victims would be better served by the City or County, but in the end, it is serving the victims that is most important, not the politics, or the personalization that the Mayor, or anyone else, would seek to use to galvanize their base for any particular agenda, regardless of what side they might find themselves.

Government’s first duty is to protect the people. By making this issue about personalities, not only are the people not protected, but the debate is diverted from the real issue, to side issues that don’t serve the public good in the long run.

2 thoughts

  1. I think “public safety” was the first victim of our combined leadership of this city in the last decade. On the whole, Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn have been great additions to this council, and seem to be attempting to turn this boat around.

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