City leaders call for change in 2017

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — At the end of what has been a historically violent year, city leaders and Memphians came together at Graceland Saturday morning for the mayor's Annual Prayer Breakfast, calling for change.

It's a city divided and plagued with crime.

"There's racial divide, there's an economic, class divide," said former Memphis Mayor W. W. Herenton.

And as we enter the new year, that racial tension still runs high.

"When I ran for mayor, there were white people that didn't want to support me because I'm black," Herenton said. "There are a number of blacks that don't want to support Mayor Strickland because he's white. That's nonsense."

Mayor Jim Strickland's first year in office has also been the most violent, with a record number of homicides -- 226 -- many of them still unsolved.

That's 226 Memphians who won't live to see a new year.

It's an epidemic Herenton calls a "black problem."

"The preponderance of the crimes are committed by blacks and the victims are blacks -- that's a truism, that's a fact," he said. "So we have to do something about it."

Strickland has been widely criticized during his short time in office.

Protesters even staged a "die-in" on his front yard last week, playing dead and pretending to hang themselves.

"I make mistakes just like everyone else," Strickland said, "But that doesn't mean we quit driving forward and trying to address our issues and work even harder."

City leaders are heading into 2017 with hope for change.

One way Strickland plans to do that is by beefing up the police force.

"Next year, we're going to put more focus in the police department on the gangs, because they're really driving a lot of the homicides," he said. "And I hope next year we'll start seeing an increase in the number of police officers we have."

He also wants to expunge the criminal records of more nonviolent criminals, so they can get off the streets, get jobs and end the vicious cycle.

The mayor is calling on Memphians to do three specific things to help curb crime in 2017: mentor a child or teen, help a child learn to read and adopt a block in your neighborhood and help clean it up.

To find out how to get involved, visit www.memphistn.gov/calltoaction.