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Thursday, June 13, 2024

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Making sense of police-community talk

In a seemingly increasing number of venues in various places in Memphis, discussions about improving police-community relations are popping up like new grass after winter.

Such was the case on Tuesday as the Whitehaven Kiwanis Club devoted its Dutch Treat Luncheon to the subject during a gathering at Methodist South Hospital. With Dr. Randolph Meade Walker, pastor of Castalia Baptist Church moderating, the session brought together police, educators and administrators, community volunteers, representatives from the county mayor’s office and others involved in different aspects of service to youth.

As is the case with such discussions, the bottom line gets down to what is to be done? What is next? Walker spoke to that point as the spirited exchange, which included Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams, moved to that inevitable juncture.

“I think we need more of this, a village powwow,” said Walker. “Everybody is doing a great job in their own individual cubby holes. But we need this thing to be a symphony so we can make music. We’re playing solos now and we’re not connecting with each other.

“It seems to me we all need to come together in a concerted effort so that they (youth) hear the same message at Whitehaven High School, at the YMCA, from the police, from the church and everywhere that they go.”

Getting to that “concerted effort” stage has been an elusive goal – a point acknowledged by many in the room. And while some there – and elsewhere – say the time for talk has waned and that it is time for action, there is evidence to suggest the quality of the talk is problematic.

At the Kiwanis Club session, there was an earnest attempt made to hear each other and to talk through differences.

For example: Dell Gill was adamant that too much police manpower is devoted to writing tickets. There is much better use for those officers, he said. Some others in the room didn’t see it quite that way.

“Shouldn’t people be held responsible,” asked Calvin Burton.

Police are not perfect, but “people don’t have respect for 4-way stop signs,” said Blanch Thomas. “We need to write tickets. People are not compliant. We need to set some standards.”

MPA’s Williams pushed the need to “stop letting the government dictate how we are going to operate in our communities.” He was critical of the way existing resources are being used and distributed.

Calling the Kroc Center in Midtown a beautiful place, he said Whitehaven, Frayser, Orange Mound and other areas rightly should have such a facility.

The Davis YMCA center should have been upgraded long ago, he said. With upgraded facilities, there is more of a chance to draw young people. And at that point, there must be programs that can benefit them, he said.

Yasmin McKinney of the Davis YMCA said it is making a difference, serving over 500 kids a week. The need, however, is great, she said, with it not unusual to encounter high school seniors who are reading, barely, at a third-grade level.

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