The brutal beating of three people by a mob of teens in the Poplar Plaza Kroger parking lot Saturday night happened just days after a forum was held on ways to prevent youth violence.
Although no one was killed in the Kroger incident, situations involving youth violence don't always have such endings — 58 of the 119 lives that fell victim to homicide in Memphis this year were between the ages of 18 and 34.
Memphis Police Department (MPD) Director Toney Armstrong announced these statistics during the "Youth Violence Prevention Forum" last Thursday evening.
"I'm using every resource [and] all the manpower that I have, but I can't do everything," Armstrong stated during the meeting.
Along with Mayor A C Wharton, Armstrong said he thought it would be helpful for local agencies and organizations that contribute resources toward combating youth violence to congregate. More than 100 representatives of city government, Shelby County Schools, and nonprofit agencies, as well as concerned locals gathered at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.
Attendees selected one of four breakout sessions including one on literacy and education. The session was intended as a gathering to generate ideas to help increase literacy among young minorities, but it also served as an outlet for participants to vent about the city's crime, gang, and parenting issues.
One woman was almost in tears while reminiscing about her son, who was among the city's homicide victims.
"I'm tired of seeing our black youth die in the street like it's something calm," she said. "Those are my young men out there in the street, and I feel responsible. We have to start with our children. I don't care how many programs you produce, you're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Until we take the time to teach our children as parents and neighborhood people what's right and what's wrong, and teach them the truth, it's not going to work."
Other sessions focused on employment opportunities and job readiness, parenting and mentoring, and after-school and athletic activities. At each session, strategies were established to better utilize current resources, and ideas were presented to create new efforts to decrease youth violence.
"The group felt that the community's disconnect from support for families and communities was a root cause [of youth violence]," said Lisa Moore, facilitator for the parenting and mentoring session. "If there was community support for families and youth, then there would be adequate jobs, better education, and more activities."
Ron Redwing of the Redwing Foundation and 100 Black Men of Memphis facilitated the employment opportunities and job readiness session. During the gathering, the group discussed creating a centralized database to share information on services offered to help young people find jobs. The group also thought it was important to motivate Memphis-based corporations to hire and retain local talent.
"We looked for specific opportunities to help increase young people's employment, so that they were either well-trained or had better opportunities for jobs they could seek and become employed with," Redwing said.
Although the Youth Violence Prevention Forum was arranged to produce new violence intervention strategies, some worry that it will simply be another event involving a multitude of locals who talk about making a change but fall short when it comes to implementing action behind their suggestions.
"I think it was well-intentioned, but I'm not sure that anything occurred that will move the needle," said a city government official, who asked not to be identified. "It was a lot of preaching to the choir."