What kind of horror-movie hell transpired on Lester Street last week? There were shootings, stabbings, maybe even stranglings of nine men, women, and children. There had to be screams of shock and pain, cries of anguish, pleas for mercy. A half-dozen or more shots were fired and no neighbors called the police, because the sound of gunfire is so common there.
Newspaper columnists write about how we need to change the culture of violence. They demand that our leaders do something, dammit. They urge understanding and even forgiveness. Civic groups hold forums on race relations, where well-intentioned folks — black, white, and brown — discuss how we all can learn to "better understand one another." It's the intellectual equivalent of piling teddy bears against a fire hydrant and about as useful.
There are no great mysteries here, folks. Too many people in Memphis are stuck on a treadmill of poverty and ignorance. Most of us aren't racists. Most of us, black and white, want to break the cycle and heal our city. But how do we kick over the damn treadmill?
I never thought I'd say this, but we need a surge. And we need a leader who can sell a surge — a visionary, a bringer of hope, a straight talker. Just for the hell of it, let's imagine we came up with someone with the charisma of Barack Obama to run Memphis for a while.
I'd want him to sit down with a joint session of the City Council and County Commission and negotiate the immediate cooperative operation — and expansion — of all our police and sheriff functions. I'd want him to meet with business leaders and come up with innovative — and massive — job plans for youth. I'd want him to tell people to quit having babies out of wedlock, to pay attention to their kids, to make sure they're in school every day, and to keep them out of gangs. I'd want him speaking at our schools, meeting with neighborhood groups, churches, civic clubs — inspiring, provoking, motivating, leading!
Can we demand this kind of energy and performance from our leaders? I'd like to say, "Yes, we can," but I don't know if I believe that. Maybe it's a bottom-up deal. Maybe it's our job. What do you think?