MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - There’s an area of Overton Park in Memphis called the old forest. It’s as close as you’ll get to knowing what this city looked like even before its first drug store. Trees are more than a century old, and every year nature seems to move in just a bit more. John Slater of Memphis has been drawn here for decades. “I’ve been using this park for thirty years,” he says. “I intend to continue using it. Absolutely.”
Fifteen years ago they actually allowed vehicles to travel on the trails in the old forest. Now there are no cars or trucks, just people walking and riding along. Jill Blasingame uses the trials for her daily jogs. “I never carry valuables,” she says. “I never carry anything on me. I live about half a mile from here. I run from my house and back. I’ve never encountered any problems, although I did hear about something a few days ago.”
She heard about what happened to John Slater. He was walking on one of the trails in the middle of the day, when he saw a couple of kids on bicycles. They weren’t young kids, and they looked at Slater. They gave him a look that made him pretty uncomfortable. “They went by me,” he said, “…and I relaxed a bit. I heard something behind me, and turned around. There was this big guy. He pushed me against a tree and hurt my shoulder pretty bad. He pushed me on the ground. I looked up again and they demanded money. Actually I was worried it was going to be a lot worse than it was.”
Slater went home, called police, and then activated a GPS device that pinpointed his cell phone location. All the police had to do was follow the GPS, and it led them to the two kids that Slater said did it.
Here’s what makes Slater and so many others in Memphis special. He has no intentions of changing his life because of a couple of thugs. “This is one of the most beautiful places you can find,” Slater said. “I will keep coming. I hope everybody keeps coming.” Slater says the work of police, and the Overton Park Conservancy has really paid off. “This park is vastly safer today than it was twenty or thirty years ago,” he says.
Memphis can be a frightening place. Yes, there is crime. Yes, there are people who don’t give a damn about others. The fact is, however, that Memphis survives because of its good people. They are people who refuse to be pushed around. The people who stay and work hard and take back parks and streets and other areas from those who think violence will get them what they want.
Overton Park is a far different place now, because of people who are working every day to make it special. Their work continues. In this case, Tina Sullivan of the Overton Park Conservancy says police are helping them, some park members are keeping an eye on the trials, and it’s going to be alright. “If anything,” she says, “…we just want more people to come to the park. That will make the park feel safer.”
Investigators charged James Moss, 16, Inell Crayton, 17, and Devekio Bateman, 14, with the robbery.