The Gathering Storm: Youth Violence in Memphis

A couple of weeks ago, on the first really warm Saturday of the year, I was driving back from the library down Tillman Street through Binghampton, through crowds of youths that were somewhere on the spectrum between a street carnival and something more ominous. The couple of hundred people or so were gathered around an incipient fight between two youths who were standing face to face. As I drove past, through the open window I heard someone yell “Hit that nigga!”, and when I looked into the rear-view mirror, the young men had begun fighting in earnest. Yesterday, however, the violence of the nearby Binghampton neighborhood invaded the halls of the Memphis Public Library itself, when three youths’ argument in the lobby turned into a full-scale brawl, frightening two older African-American women in the bookshop, who said to each other (and me) “What’s wrong with these kids?” The security guards separated them with some difficulty, and the police were called. By the time I decided to leave the library, the police had made the young men sit down on the sidewalk in front of the library as they took names and addresses. I wanted to yell at them “Where is all this rage coming from? Don’t you know how short life is? Don’t you know the sacrifices your ancestors made so you could have the opportunities you’re so casually throwing away?” But instead I walked past toward my car, overhearing one of the boys explaining to a police officer that one of the other youths had displayed a red “flag”, a bandana used to symbolize the Bloods gang. Apparently, the police believed there could be further trouble, because as I left the library, I noticed that a police cruiser was posted up at East High School down the street, and another to the west at Tillman and Walnut Grove. When something like this happens, and it’s big enough to make the news, the internet comments locally are full of blatant or implied racist comments, as if the young people’s Blackness was an explanation for the violence. But today at the library, it was easy to see the bewilderment on the faces of many Black adults as well, police, security guards, library employees and passers-by. They are just as confused by the behavior of inner-city young people today as are suburban whites. It is clear that something has to be done before Memphis reaps a terrible harvest of violence. And blaming people because of their skin-color or race does nobody any good.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *