The assault began when a group of teens surrounded a 25-year-old man, swarming him with punches. Two teenage Kroger employees witnessed the attack and attempted to aid the man. They were both brutally assaulted.
After a video of the incident went viral, the story made headlines on news outlets ranging from the Huffington Post to CNN. This left the potential for people to stigmatize the area and think twice before shopping in Poplar Plaza. Some locals admitted to venturing to other Kroger establishments for groceries. Others took more precautionary measures.
"I carry a zapper now. I have no problem going [to Kroger]. They're not running me out of my store," said a High Point Terrace resident, the residential neighborhood east of the shopping plaza, at a meeting last week of the High Point Terrace Neighborhood Watch and Association.
According to the Memphis Police Department (MPD), those who reside in neighborhoods surrounding Poplar Plaza shouldn't be more worried than normal about their safety.
MPD Colonel Terry Landrum, commander of the Tillman precinct, said information from Blue CRUSH, a data-driven initiative that uses information collected from MPD reports to determine and target crime hotspots, shows that the Poplar Plaza area and nearby neighborhoods have the lowest number of reported crimes in the entire precinct.
The Tillman precinct's boundaries include Jackson Avenue and L&N Rail Road to the north, Park Avenue to the south, I-40 and I-240 to the east, and Airways and E. Parkway to the west.
In a mile radius of Oak Court Mall, which includes Poplar Plaza, Landrum said shoplifting and residential burglaries tend to occur more often than violent crimes.
"In the month of July, we've had three robberies, eight thefts of vehicles, 11 shopliftings, and 10 burglaries [in that area]," Landrum said. "In August, we've got nine burglaries, 12 shopliftings, and one robbery. In September, so far, we've had three burglaries and two shopliftings and no robberies."
But some area residents remain bothered by the Kroger incident. High Point Terrace Neighborhood Watch and Association's meeting at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church's Fellowship Hall last week centered on the incident and what's being done to make sure a similar event doesn't take place in the future. The group brainstormed ways to provide at-risk youth throughout the city with more outlets, support, and mentorship to keep them away from participating in violent flash mobs.
Neighborhood residents, elected officials, Memphis city councilmembers, Shelby County commissioners, and representatives from law enforcement and civic organizations attended the meeting and contributed ideas. Representatives from Poplar Plaza's Kroger and CiCi's Pizza, where the teens met up before the Kroger attack, were also in attendance.
Fairy Shull has resided in High Point Terrace for three years and lives within walking distance of Poplar Plaza. Shull said she feels safe in her neighborhood and doesn't view it or the shopping plaza in a different light following the Kroger parking lot melee.
"If somebody's lawn mower's stolen or anything like that, somebody's on top of it," Shull said with regard to her neighborhood. "Many of us are vigilant about paying attention to what cars are in our neighbor's driveway. We are a very engaged community, and that's precious. We're right in the heart of the city."
By Louis Goggans