A Nashville Neighborhood's Spike In Violence Proves Hard To Calm | Nashville Public Radio

A Nashville Neighborhood's Spike In Violence Proves Hard To Calm

Dec 28, 2017

Nashville saw a rise in homicides across the city this year — but some neighborhoods were worse than others. In and around the James Cayce Homes in East Nashville, there were seven murders, the most in 26 years. 

The rash of shootings has shocked the community, especially the deaths of two teenage girls, Vastoria Lucas and Debrianah Begley.

East Precinct Commander David Imhof of the Metro Nashville Police Department says those shootings motivated the community to talk to law enforcement. "The community was just like, 'This has got to stop,' " Imhof said. 

But coming forward to help solve a murder and preventing one before it happens are two very different things. Imhof says it's important to know why the shootings are happening in the first place.

"It isn't like there is a drug war going on and rival factions are killing one another, or a gang rivalry in which people are killing each other," Imhof said. "We're seeing very individualistic cases. It just happens to be a bad year for that."

In other words: It's interpersonal conflicts gone haywire. With 19-year-old Vastoria Lucas, for example, her murder stemmed from a years-long domestic dispute. And police say that while many homicides are concentrated in public housing complexes like Cayce, it's not usually the residents who commit them. Rather, it's people from the outside coming in.   

In the end, though, Imhof said it comes down to conflict resolution: that split-second decision of choosing to pick up a gun rather than handling the problem a different way, like diffusing tensions. It's not anything more foot patrols will necessarily fix, Imhof says.

And community members agree. At the vigil for 16-year-old Debrianah Begley, who was killed by a stray bullet in Cayce, her cousin Johnny Lee said rather than trying to make sense of the shooting, the community needs to focus on teaching young people the skills to solve problems without resorting to violence.  

"You can sit down and you will bust the vessels in your brain trying to think," Lee said of why people shoot. "But we have to start with the youth. We got to teach them young."

The violence can't be solved simply with more police, Lee added. It's too diffuse and impulsive for that.    

"The police are good for stepping in when you don't want to go seek revenge," Lee said. "But for the 'now,' police really can't do nothing, I mean, unless they're right there, standing right there when it's happening."

But even when they are right there, it hasn't always worked. Cayce has more than 200 security cameras around the complex. They've helped solve a five of the seven murders in the neighborhood this year. But, as Imhof explains, they haven't done as well deterring the shooting.

"When people pull out guns, they're mad, they're upset," Imhof said. "Are they thinking, 'Hey, there's a camera looking at me right now, maybe I shouldn't do this?' Are they thinking that through? Or are they just reacting?"

It's mostly the latter, Imhof says — and policing peoples' impulses and reactions isn't easy.