Recent Deaths Force Memphis To Confront Its Problems With Crime And A Lack Of Opportunities For Young People

By Courtney Anderson

MEMPHIS, TN- This southern city is renowned for its importance in American culture. It is sadly also known as one of the most violent cities in the country, with a violent crime rate that is nearly three times that of the entire state of Tennessee.

Local news reports the deaths of Memphis citizens nearly every day.

With the recent deaths of 18-year-old Myneisha Johnson, who was only a week away from graduating high school, and Memphis police officer Verdell Smith, city government officials have sworn to fight back against crime.

Memphis mayor Jim Strickland promised to create even more efforts against crime, and released his plan on June 6.

Strickland’s plans, titled “Better Memphis,” calls for more police officer patrols, improved communication between MPD, highway patrol and sheriff deputies and more close monitoring of past offenders.

“We have to do a lot more as a city government and as a community,” Strickland said in a statement on June 9. “As a city government, we need more police officers. We need coordination with the sheriff and the state.”

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The website for the Memphis Police Department has a statement about the department’s dedication to crime prevention and several examples of programs created to curtail crime.

“The Crime Prevention efforts of the Memphis Police Department seek to combine prevention, intervention, and law enforcement in a partnership effort with the community to combat crime,” the Memphis Police Department site states.

The Memphis Police Department’s website features the Community Outreach Program (also known as C.O.P), the Neighborhood Watch, “Memphis’s Night Out Against Crime” and other programs.

The MPD has also increased their presence on the often-crowded Beale Street and those who visit the famous street are charged a $10 cover fee.

And yet, crime in Memphis still seems to be on the rise.

Crime despite increased policing indicates other issues besides police presence in the city. While the MPD is experiencing a low enrollment rate and have experienced a severe cut in funding, the communities that experience the most crime still have heavy police presence. Memphis’s problems do not seem to have come from a lack of policing.

Memphis’s main issues seem to stem from an uneven distribution of the city’s money and resources.

It is no secret that the areas of Memphis that experience the most crime (the Frayser and South Memphis areas being two of the most prominent) are the ones that have the least community centers, schools and other educational resources.

Even Strickland admits that part of the problem comes from the fact that the 18-24 age group doesn’t have much to do.

“The frustrating thing for people is, they want immediate results,” Strickland said in an interview with a local news station. “Nationally, we were the worst in the country in the percent of young people, aged 18-24, who were not in school and who did not have a job. We need to create more programming for young people to have something to do when they’re not in school.”

The city of Memphis has closed several elementary, middle and high schools throughout the years. Most recently, the city closed down George Washington Carver High School, which was located in South Memphis.

Another high school, Northside High, is also supposed to be closed in 2017.  

And there is the uneven number of community centers across the city.

There are 24 community centers in Memphis, but while there are nine of them in North Memphis, there are only four in South Memphis.

Not to mention the fact that the centers do not have consistent hours or programming.

The onus for protecting children and teenagers in Memphis often falls on the parents and neighborhood churches and organizations run by citizens.

“The families of these troubled youths, the churches, the communities, the non-profits. We all have to step up and do more,” Strickland stated.

Luckily, they have.

Churches in North Memphis and Frayser have worked to create summer day camps and educational after-school programs.

Major churches often hold citywide prayers and discussions about preventing crime and helping Memphis youth. And they do it on their own dimes.

While city funding for schools, city-run programs for young Memphis citizens, and the police and fire departments seem absent, funding for new corporations seems to create a paradox.

One recent example is ServiceMaster Co., which was awarded a $5.5 million grant to renovate and move into the vacant Peabody Place building in downtown Memphis.

ServiceMaster, along with the Turner Dairy Foods and TAG truck services, were granted tax breaks by the Economic Development and Growth Engine.

And then there is the Memphis Riverfront Corporation and the long-delayed Beale Street Landing.

In 2014, it was estimated that the Beale Street Landing would cost $43 million. Back then, the city council voted to provide another $600,000 to the construction and restore funds the city had previously cut.

It’s hard to square the image of a financially strapped city that can’t pay for schools and one that gives payment in lieu of taxes to major corporations. It’s a juxtaposition that may give many Memphis citizens pause.

When you look at these situations, you see a city that needs to reorder its priorities. Memphis citizens, who have been trying to follow Strickland’s “advice” to do more, need a boost from the city. There is only so much a community can do with little money and resources.

In order for the city to truly advance, the government will have to provide more support to its citizens. And the support will have to come in some form other than more police officers.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Joel/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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