So much violent crime, so many questions and, factoring in the murder of renowned Memphis rapper Adolph Robert Thornton Jr./Young Dolph, virtually no basis for thinking things will get better before they get worse.
Still, the work must be put in to get to that better day.
That premise set up “A.D./After Dolph,” a virtual town hall presented on Wednesday by the Memphis Branch NAACP and Kudzukian, an independently-owned and locally-based, multi-platform audio and visual content producer. NAACP Memphis President Van D. Turner Jr. hosted a panel that featured Mia Jaye, Young Dolph’s life partner and the mother of his two young children.
Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis and U.S. Marshal Service Officer Tyreece Miller joined Turner and Jaye. The panel sought to explore practical and effective ways to address what Mayor Jim Strickland framed as a decades-long “plague” of violent crime during his recent State of the City address.
Dolph’s Nov. 17 ambush by two gun-wielding perpetrators served as a spotlight on a key problem element: guns, particularly the proliferation of them.
“Tennessee has some of the most liberal gun laws in the nation,” said Turner, who participated from the Kudzukian studios at the Agricenter. “Anyone can purchase a gun. You can buy one without a permit and without any training on how to operate that firearm.”
More access to guns equals more violent crime, particularly homicides, is the line of thought. While some don’t go along with such thinking, violent crime stats are up, even as the overall crime rate continues a decrease from 2019.
“There is an uptick in violent crimes,” said Chief Davis. “And, we are seeing more and more crimes being committed by young teens, as young as 13 and 14.
“We are always struck, also, by the heartless and vicious nature of the carjackings and armed robberies. They (the perpetrators) are aggressive and inhumane, without the necessary skills to effectively resolve conflict. We have a mental health crisis on our hands.”
Jaye, who also lost a brother to violent crime, organized a non-profit organization called Black Men Deserve to Grow Old to address the needs of families with loved ones who died violently. She detailed the need for wraparound services to help such families.
Children, she added, also need the benefit of what once was more of a community standard.
“It seems like we took prayer out of the schools, we lost something,” said Jaye.
“People ask how my children are doing with the loss of their father. My children are fine. They attend private Christian school. They understand that when you die, you go to heaven. They say, ‘When I die, I want to see daddy, and be with him in heaven.’”
Two men – Justin Johnson and Cornelius Smith – face murder charges stemming from the gun down of Young Dolph. Johnson, according to the U.S. Marshals office, was apprehended in Indiana after a coordinated investigation by the U.S. Marshals Two Rivers Violent Fugitive Task Force and the Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force.
During the virtual town hall, U.S. Marshal Miller said the Marshal’s witness protection program has been very effective in helping people feel safe enough to tip off police if they see something.
“Since 1974, the U.S. Marshal Service has protected more than 19,000,” said Miller.
Davis said the city of Memphis has also established a local witness protection program for those who call in tips.
“After the murder of Young Dolph, more than 500 tips came in,” said Davis. “Many times, we know people are afraid to come forward, although they may have seen something.
“Pastor Bill Adkins (senior pastor, Greater Imani Cathedral of Faith) asked us for money to establish a local witness protection. After people call in a tip, where are they going to go? This program has been very helpful in keeping local residents protected after they help police. They are safely removed from their environment.”
Miller said there could be no real change unless there is a return to the basic Christian principles that were in the Black community years ago. All of the panel participants agreed.
“We were taught by our mothers and grandmothers to get on our knees and pray before we climbed into bed,” Turner said. “‘Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.’ Every night, that’s what we would do. Prayer really meant something then.”
Davis said Christian leaders must not be afraid – nor ashamed – to say they are Christians.
“We are God-fearing people, and it’s OK to let our young people know that,” she said. “Initiatives are good, but we must pray for our city and the level of criminal activity and homicide we are witnessing.”
Pastor Adkins’ program, said Davis, also has been helpful in assisting young people to safely get out of gangs.
And, said Miller, parents must take responsibility and be accountable for what their children are doing.