Former mayor's words about race and crime rubbing some the wrong way

Former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton is no stranger to controversial words, and the words he spoke recently at Mayor Strickland's New Year's Prayer Breakfast are rubbing some members of the black community the wrong way.

Those words were about the crime problem and race.

The former Mayor did not mince words, at one point saying that blacks must take ownership of the crime problem.

But one adjunct professor at the University of Memphis said the real problem has little to do about race, and more about systematic racism.

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It is an issue that plagued the city last year... an issue that current Mayor Jim Strickland said he is mad about, and an issue that, as of now, has no solution. That issue is crime.

Over the weekend, former Mayor Willie Herenton addressed the subject head on, saying blacks need to protect themselves from blacks. "The people that are shooting are not riding deep in Germantown or Collierville. They're riding in the Mound. They're riding in Binghampton. They're riding in Frayser."

The former mayor then recognized that his words may have rubbed some people the wrong way. "When I stated very emphatically that the crime problem was a black problem, well those comments got mixed reactions," Herenton explained.

We showed Dr. Darron Smith, a University of Memphis Sociology Professor, Herenton's speech. Then we got his reaction.

"Crime is not a black problem. It's a systemic problem.” Smith said. “It's made worse by white supremacy and discrimination. As long as America remains unequal and as long as Memphis remains unequal, we're going to have disproportionate numbers in crime."

Dr. Smith agreed with the former Mayor on some issues that could help to bring crime down... Including jobs and education.

"In order for the crime epidemic in the city to stop, black folks need jobs. He's (Herenton) right about education. We need education. Good sound education. Black folks need jobs. They need opportunities to find other ways to make money outside of the underground economy."

Smith said he has studied the crime patterns of the city. Specifically, last year's record breaking year for homicides. He believes the issues will not be solved overnight. But his data points to a solution.

"We cannot be that damn naive. The data is replete with evidence that equality is our solution, not sound bites."

Smith went on to say that smart, progressive changes in the way that we govern the citizens of Memphis is also key. With every citizen having the same opportunities.