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Takeaways from the Black Mayors’ Coalition on Crime: Cities can learn a lot from each other

Sharing their experiences with crime reduction, The Black Mayors’ Coalition on Crime wrapped up a two-day conference at the Hyatt Centric Beale Street Memphis on Thursday, March 28.

Memphis Mayor Paul Young hosted Black leaders from 18 U.S. cities during the meeting that began Wednesday, March 27. 

“People want the short-term solution. They want to figure out how we are going to stop crime today. And then, we want to figure out how to stop crime in the future. In order to do that, there has to be an intense dialogue,” said Young.

In addition to Washington D.C., they came from several states with large African-American populations, like Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri, Indiana, North Carolina and California. 

“We have a lot of violence around convenience stores and gas stations,” Mayor Tishaura Jones told Action News 5 after the conference. “So how can we hold those business owners accountable and also bring down crime? (We’re also finding that ) some of the things that we’re already doing, we’re finding that other mayors are doing as well.”

Strategies were front and center in the discussion. They included Operation GOOD in Jackson, Miss. and Operation Scarlett in Charlotte, N.C. According to proponents, both have paid dividends in their respective communities.

Operation GOOD is a nonprofit with ambitious goals to curb recidivism, reduce violence and tackling blight, for example. Operation Scarlett is an ongoing anti-luxury car theft operation that was expanded to 11 states and 152 law enforcement agencies. So far, 132 vehicles have been retrieved.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris and Memphis Police Department Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis also appeared at the event.

Russ Wiggington, president of the National Civil Rights Museum, moderated the conversation. 

The Council on Criminal Justice, a think tank devoted to criminal justice policy, began the conference with a keynote presentation.

To allow attendants to speak freely, no media were invited to the event. However, Young has suggested future meetings could be open to the public and virtual. It’s a sentiment matched by Mayor Chokwe Lumumba Jr. of Jackson, Miss.

“We’re ensuring amongst ourselves that this will not be the last engagement, but that we will continue to lean in,” Lumumba said at a post-conference press event.

Latest Crime Stats

Although crime rates in Memphis has dropped recently, they are still above pre-pandemic levels.

Overall, the Memphis-Shelby County Crime Commission statistics reflect a 6.4% drop in fourth quarter of 2023, over 2022’s final period. This includes murder, burglary, robbery, theft, weapons and drug charges. Property crimes fell 10.1% too.

However, violent crime in Memphis bucked the trend. In addition to 398 homicides in 2023 – breaking the 2021 record – the major violent crime rate rose 7.4% in Memphis. Shelby County saw inflated numbers too, with a 6.3% jump over 2022.

To date, there have been over 80 homicides in 2024. Memphis has the highest number of all the cities represented during he meetings. Most have seen a decrease.

The Black Mayors Coalition on Crime is the latest in a series of conversations Young has recently held to address crime early in his first term.

Young meets with Sen. Haggerty

On Wednesday, he also met with Republican U.S. Senator Bill Haggerty to discuss local efforts to reduce crime.

“We have a great opportunity to improve things here…I think the crime problem is something we’ve absolutely got to address. I’ve been meeting with the mayor and his great team of people today. I feel very optimistic that we’re going to make some real progress here,” said Haggerty.

He also visited with Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen, who announced $1.9 million in federal spending for an additional deployment of blue light cameras, along with updated software, and upgraded equipment for officer safety.

On top of that, Young has also conducted a “One Memphis” tour to listen to concerns from residents of various communities. His latest stop was Frayser on Tuesday, March 26.

Prior to taking office, he also had several conversations with City Council Chairman JB Smiley and Davis. Smiley shares the view that crime is the city’s most pressing issue.

Young accosted at Folks Folly

On Monday, March 25, Mayor Young had his own brush with the city’s crime problem. 

Following a dinner at Folk’s Folly, a security detail prevented a man from forcing his way into Young’s car, after the mayor was grabbed outside the East Memphis restaurant. 

James Banks, 36, was charged with public intoxication and disorderly conduct. His vehicle was also towed.

He is free on $1,500 bond. A court date has been set for April 24.

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