Perhaps the most celebrated and important thoroughfare in Shelby County is Poplar Avenue. It begins on Memphis' western rim, on the banks of the mighty Mississippi River, among the sturdy buildings of our governmental
complex, and continues eastward through some of the city's oldest and most scenic areas, along the long edge of Overton Park and continuing past the Parkway, bisecting thereafter, mile upon mile of choice commercial and residential territory. Eventually it escapes Memphis proper and cuts a swath through the vital centers of Memphis' two most upscale suburbs, Germantown and Collierville, before finally crossing into Mississippi in the far southeast corner of the county.
Poplar can truly be called the Main Street of Shelby County, and a key point of it, a connecting link of sorts, about midway on its path through the county, is the intersection of Poplar and Highland, just past the monumental Benjamin Hooks Public Library on the north and the now-secluded stretch that shelters Chickasaw Gardens to the immediate south. The corner serves as an entrance into the University of Memphis area and to the nearby expanse of the Links of Galloway golf course. It is surrounded with prime shopping and residential areas.
On the northwest corner of the intersection is the busy Poplar Plaza shopping area, home to numerous popular restaurants and stores, and most notably the enormous (and enormously popular) new state-of-the-art Kroger Supermarket.
On each of the past two weekends, the vast parking area of Poplar Plaza has been the scene of mob violence. As surely as everybody reading this knows, the second of these outbreaks, during which a would-be Kroger shopper barely managed a gauntlet run from where he'd parked his car to the relative safety of the big store's interior, was captured on video via an employee's cellphone camera. As the video also makes clear, two other Kroger employees, both young teens, were beaten unconscious by the marauders, who may or may not have been playing the thuggish "game" called Point 'Em Out, Knock 'Em Out, which targets people at random who have the misfortune to be in the mob's path.
Mayor A C Wharton and Police Director Toney Armstrong have responded promptly to the latest incident with strong words and promises of strong action. Several arrests have already been made. In their own way, though, they have been a bit like President Obama, who has so far struggled to counter the horrific surge of the ISIS caliphate with impressive rhetoric but with uncertain action.
This latest urban crisis similarly confronts Memphis. Occurring at a time of reduced benefits and troubled prospects for the city's first responders, it would be difficult to deal with even by a fully staffed law enforcement corps with high morale.
But we know what we're up against — a virulent strain of youth violence that, if left unchecked, could beget more such incidents, generate vigilante responses, and sunder permanently the links that still hold Shelby County together — literally and figuratively, physically and spiritually.
The way to confront the problem must be found, and it will need the full support of all of us. If one of the pillars of Memphis commerce is allowed to fall prey to this sort of lawless behavior, everyone loses, regardless of race, class, or place of residence.