MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings says 2020 could be the most violent in the city’s history.
But local leaders say any conversations about violence that focus on “Black-on-Black crime” are meaningless, and they say it’s time to shift the focus.
From Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 to Interstate 40 in 2016 and now 2020, the voices of the disenfranchised have been crying to be heard. People who live here say until we address the “why,” this moment will only resurface.
“We never look at the root cause and therefore we keep positing all these solutions that to be honest with you just don’t work,” said Duane Loynes, assistant professor of Africana Studies at Rhodes College.
We report to you almost daily about violence in Memphis including the increase in homicides this year and the nearly two dozen children included in that, but local leaders say it’s time to dig deeper.
“The idea of Black-on-Black crime really is something we just created to talk about in discourse but it really doesn’t amount to much because you can talk about White-on-White crime, you can talk about a variety of types of crime and statistically, they’re all pretty consistent,” Loynes said.
Instead criminology professors say we should look more closely at the issues impacting Black communities.
“People are not born criminals,” said Dr. KB Turner, of the University of Memphis Department of Criminology. “Things happen and if you put any racial ethnic group in a situation where they’re fighting for basic needs, things they need to survive there’s a great possibility that they too will result in antisocial behavior.”
“When we talk about black-on-black crime, that takes us away from the deeper conversation that Memphis has a huge poverty problem and that where you find poverty, you’re going to find crime,” said Pastor Rosalyn Nichols with Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church.
Nichols is a lifelong Memphian. She believes until we address the concept of generational wealth, we will never see true change.
“By shifting the economics in this city, by addressing the poverty in this city that we will have homeowners, people who own land, people who own some stuff for themselves,” she said.
She and others believe the steps toward a solution can’t only center around law enforcement.
“If you want to fix crime, don’t increase law enforcement. Because that’s not going to solve it because that’s not the problem,” Loynes said. “If you want to fix crime in urban communities you have to address poverty, you have to address institutional racism.”
But Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings says the department’s high volume of calls indicates otherwise.
“Without these officers in Memphis, I wouldn’t live in Memphis,” Rallings said. “For those that say that, 1.7 million people don’t believe that, because they call the police every single year. There’s always someone that has a different opinion, but the data doesn’t back that up.”
In addition to addressing what Rallings calls a staffing crisis, he says violence is an issue that affects every single person in this city, so he wants to see more people in the community stepping up.
“We need the community and we need law enforcement working hand in hand to make our city a better place. One entity alone cannot do it,” Rallings said.