The Roots of the Crime Epidemic: A City’s Failure Of Its Youth

I hope that most Memphians were amazed and outraged when Mayor Herenton last week proposed laying off police and firemen, as well as closing libraries, parks, community centers and pools. A man who has made little sense over the years, Herenton seems to be making less sense every day. But there should have been equal outrage over the Memphis City Council’s decision to eliminate local funding of the public schools last year. Both attitudes show a lack of regard for our city’s future, our young people, particularly our African-American young people, who face a myriad of problems and roadblocks from birth. Memphians have been griping about high crime rates for several years, but never make the connection between growing crime and the taxpayers’ unwillingness to fund decent education and recreation. Therefore, a considerable amount of local tax moneys go to prosecuting and punishing criminals. The criminals’ lives have been ruined by bad choices, and their victims lives have been ruined as well. How much better it would be to try to intervene through first-class schools, better social services to deal with situations where parents are not involved with their children, and adequately-funded, plentiful recreation facilities and programs. I am not claiming that these would prevent all youth crime. Nothing would prevent all youth crime. But many young people are stumbling into a life of crime due to negative attitudes about their poor performance in school or because of boredom, peer pressure and nothing to do. We owe it to ourselves, our city and our youth to provide the best schools that money can buy and good, supervised recreation so that kids have something to do other than get into trouble. We may have to spend more tax money in the short run, but we will save much more in the reduction in crime, prosecution and imprisonment. 

The Courts Declare Shelby County Schools Unitary!! (What World Are They Living In?)

Local Memphis media this past week has been reporting that the Fifth Circuilt Court of Appeals overturned Judge Bernice Donald’s ruling continuing federal oversight of Shelby County Schools, and declared the school district unitary (a fancy legal term for integrated or free of discrimination). White response has of course been positive, but I have to choke back a laugh and wonder how the courts can ignore what is painfully obvious for all to see. Previous court decisions have said that “unitary” school systems should not have schools identifiable by race. Southwind High School in southeast Shelby County on paper is 80% Black. I say on paper, because in reality, I am reliably told there are no white students in attendance. The 20% white enrollment has either fled the district or attends private schools. Shadowlawn Middle School had a 65% Black enrollment last year, and has an 80% Black enrollment this year. Keep in mind that all of this is occurring in a school district serving a population that is overwhelmingly white (the Shelby County Schools serves only that portion of the county outside of Memphis). For there to be majority-Black schools in suburban Shelby County, one has to be trying to have majority-Black schools, and that is exactly what is happening. The county school board draws boundaries in such a way as to limit contact between white and Black children in the public schools. The removal of court supervision leaves no one “minding the store” with a district that blatantly violated the law while they were under court supervision. When someone defies the law while enforcers are watching, it is ludicrous to remove the supervision and expect that they’ll do the right thing. The sad fact is, neither Memphis nor Shelby County has ever done the right thing when it comes to Black people. 

5/25/09: Memorial Day in Oxford

Memorial Day, and not a whole lot to do, but I called down to Square Books in Oxford and found out that they were going to be open, so after breakfast I drove down into Mississippi through occasional pop-up showers. On the square in Oxford, the sun was out, flowers were blooming and the businesses and courthouse looked like a postcard image. I browsed for a couple of hours and dicovered a couple of books I couldn’t live without, including the new autobiography of Bob Zellner, who was a white civil rights worker in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in the 1960’s (try finding that book in a Memphis bookstore). I then walked down to Abner’s for lunch, but while I was in there eating, a nasty storm developed, and I was two blocks from my car. Fortunately, the shower soon passed, and I walked back to the bookstore to get a latte before starting the long drive back to Memphis.  Between the showers, it was a laid-back, summer kind of day, and I chose Maze as the soundtrack to that. 

5/9/09: A Rap Conference in Greenwood, Mississippi

I drove down to Greenwood for a rap conference at which I had been asked to speak, and the weather in Memphis was horrible, but after I got past Grenada, it was nicer in the Delta. When I got to Greenwood, I had some extra time before I was supposed to be at the conference, so I stopped at a downtown bookstore called Turnrow Books, and immediately found two books about teachers teaching in predominantly-Black schools in Greenville and Leland, so I purchased those and then walked down the street to get a latte from the Mockingbird Bakery only to find that it had closed (or at least the little cafe had). I soon learned that the bread could still be purchased in the Viking Range shop, and that coffee was available on the second floor of the bookstore I had just come from, so I walked back over there and got a latte, then drove a couple of blocks west to the Memorial Building where the conference was taking place. A lot of Shreveport artists were there, one group from Rochester, New York that I had met in Albany, Georgia, Kilo from New Orleans and Razzen Kane from Jackson, Mississippi. After I spoke, it began to rain, and I decided to leave, grab a dinner and head back to Memphis. Outside the building were some older people that were part of a family reunion going on in another part of the building, and they were outside doing a dance called the “stanky leg” that I had thought was only for the young people. The dancers in the parking lot had recommended a restaurant called Webster’s Food and Drink, north of the river across the bridge, so I drove there and had a delicious filet mignon dinner. When I came back outside, however, the rain had begun to come down in buckets, and I got drenched getting to my car. Worse, large black, tornadic-looking clouds were hanging all over the western horizon. I drove over to Dunkin Donuts for a latte, and while I was there, I downloaded an app into my iPhone for realtime weather radar and forecasts. Knowing what to expect, I decided to drive back through Grenada and up I-55, and although the weather was bad at times, I made it all right. 

4/21/09: The Grill at Fair Park and Cafe 212, Tupelo

Album Alley/Bebop Records in Tupelo had a Select-O-Hits listening booth that was on the fritz, so the company sent me down there with a new CD changer to fix it. Fortunately, it was nice weather, and fixing the listening booth proved to be simple once I got to Tupelo, so I rolled past the other record store but found it closed since it only opened on weekends, and I soon found that the FYE was gone from Barnes Crossing Mall as well. It was about 5 PM, so after browsing briefly in Books-A-Million, I drove around the 45 bypass to East Main Street, where there was a restaurant called The Grill at Fair Park, which belongs to the Harvey’s corporation. They were fairly empty, but open, and I enjoyed a steak dinner there while watching the CNN news talking about President Obama and the worsening economy. After dinner I wanted coffee, but JoJo’s across the street had moved over onto Gloster, so I was headed that way, west down Main Street when I spotted Cafe 212, and it appeared to be open. Not only did they have great coffee, but they had something called a peanut-butter chocolate chip pie, which was undescribably good. After that, it was all I could do to stay awake back to Memphis.

4/16/09: Al Kapone (@ALKaponeMem) Live at the State Theatre, Starkville

I took off work early so that I could pick up Al Kapone and Sir Vince and head to their show at the State Theatre in Starkville. The drive down took awhile, but Al and I were engaged in one of our discussions about philosophy and religion, so we were in Starkville before we knew it. After we stopped by the venue, we found that we had time for dinner, so we drove a few blocks to a restaurant I knew about called Harvey’s. The waitress was fascinated by Al and Vince being rappers, and she sped up our dinners so that we wouldn’t be late in getting back to the club. Unfortunately, a band called Galactic was playing at another club in Starkville and had a huge crowd, so we knew that our crowd would be slim, but still people came out. Al and Vince went first, followed by Lord T and Eloise, but Al had a couple of songs to do with them, so we waited for their set to end at midnight. Then, with no coffee bars open, I got a latte from a McDonald’s, and we drove the two hours back into Memphis.

03/21/09: Al Kapone (@ALKaponeMem) Live at the Austin Civic Center @SXSW

After breakfast at Jim’s, I picked up Al and Vince and we rode downtown for Al and Vince to do a Memphis Music Foundation interview. I wanted to go to the Austin Record Show that was being held as part of South By Southwest in the Convention Center, but it was a small show and I didn’t find much there. I did run into Missy Querry and Kim Martini, two of Select-O-Hits’ sales reps who were there with the owner of Perris Records. After the interview Al and Vince were hanging out with friends at the Courtyard Marriott, and I walked over to Z Pizza for a small lunch, running into a couple of rappers from Atlanta who were there. On the walk back I stopped by a gelato shop, and then waited in the lobby of the Marriott, trying to get updates on the University of Memphis game. When Al and Vince came downstairs, we caught the van over to the Austin Civic Center for another large rap show. The people running this event were rude, however, not wanting to allow us in the green room and not allowing anyone to do sound checks. Al Kapone’s show with a live band captured the crowd however, and those who came after him just couldn’t do anything to equal the enthusiasm that a live band brings. Vince and I went to the Magnolia Cafe afterwards for dinner, and then I drove back to the hotel. The University of Memphis won their tournament game. 

3/20/09: In Memoriam Eddie Bo/Classie Ballou and Barbara Lynn Live at the Continental Club @SXSW

Al and Vince and I all went to Jim’s Restaurant for breakfast, and then Al had to go downtown for an interview. Vince and I ended up going back out to Backspin Records again, and then to a coffee bar on the eastside called Hot Mama’s. Leaving there, we got caught up in a tremendous traffic jam outside a warehouse that was selling jeans and shoes in conjunction with the South By Southwest week. Live bands were playing there, and there was a line out the door and around the building. Vince went with me to Texas Land and Cattle Company for dinner, and then we rode out to a dessert and coffee cafe called Dolce Vita, and even they had a live DJ playing out on the patio. I wanted to go to the Continental Club in South Austin to catch the Bo-Keys, Classie Ballou and Barbara Lynn, so I dropped Vince back off at his hotel, and headed down there. I had to pay for parking, and it was quite a long distance from the venue, but the weather was nice, and there were crowds everywhere, so I didn’t mind the walk. Across from the Continental Club was an old art-deco hotel called the Hotel San Jose, with a courtyard where a stage had been set up, and about a thousand people or so were out there listening to bands. The Continental Club was also packed to the rafters, but I managed to find a seat. Classie Ballou is a blues legend from Lake Charles, and he performed a number of swamp pop and blues hits, and later Barbara Lynn came on stage, performing a number of her best-known songs. The concert was sponsored by the Mystic Knights of the Mau Mau and the Ponderosa Stomp, and was being broadcast by New Orleans’ WWOZ radio, and at one point the MC silenced the crowd and announced the tragic news that Eddie Bo had passed away. I caught the Bo-Keys first set, but afterwards, it became so hot and stuffy in the little, over-crowded club that I left. The coffee bar across the street next door to the hotel had already closed, so I walked back to the car and drove back to the hotel. 

3/19/09: Memphis Music Foundation Showcase at @SXSW

Somebody had recommended the Magnolia Cafe for breakfast, so I drove down the Mo Pac Expressway to Lake Austin Boulevard, and to the restaurant, but there was no place to park, and I had to park down by the lake and walk a block up the hill. There was a wait for a table as well, but the breakfast was worth the wait. From there, I drove down into South Austin to a record store called End Of An Ear, where there was a live DJ performing for the South By Southwest crowd.  I was beginning to notice that all kinds of businesses had booked live bands during the festival. I bought a few things there (and could have spent a lot more), then drove back up to Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse for a latte. Sir Vince had called me from the Drury Inn and told me that he and Al Kapone had made it to Austin, so I met them at the hotel. Vince wanted to ride out with me to some more record stores, so we headed over to Backspin Records on the eastside, where there was an outdoor stage with a female band playing. The store had a great selection of reasonably-priced 45’s, and I bought a few singles there. The owner there recommended another store in South Austin called Friends Of Sound, so we drove over there, and they also had a live band playing, but the prices there were very steep indeed. For dinner, Vince and I went to a place called Chez Zee, an “american bistro” which offered very good food at reasonable prices. After dinner, it was time to head downtown to meet Al Kapone for the Memphis Music Foundation show at the Dirty Dog. Al and his live band were the high point of a show that also included the Tennessee Tearjerkers, River City Tan Lines and Free Sol. Walking back to the car, I grabbed a cappuccino from a coffee bar in the Hilton, before dropping Al and Vince off at their hotel and driving back to the room. (Photos by Loveless Photography)

3/18/09: From Beaumont to Austin

I ate breakfast at Early Bird’s Cafe on Washington Boulevard, and then I drove west to Houston, stopping at Black Dog Records, but I didn’t buy anything there because everything was so expensive. The book store next door had a couple of books that I bought, and then I drove around to Cactus Records and browsed there for a minute. After noon, I headed out Highway 290 toward Austin, stopping for a coffee at Nestle’s Toll House Cafe. Between Houston and Austin were fields of bluebonnets in bloom, with families stopping to take pictures among them, but the drive seemed to take forever. It was nearly 4 PM when I arrived in Austin, and I went straight downtown to the Convention Center to get registered for the South By Southwest Conference, but I had to wait for Mike, Al Kapone’s road manager to get there so I could register. Afterwards, I walked around the downtown area and over to 6th Street, where most of the clubs and crowds were located. As the afternoon progressed, I walked down 6th Street past a number of clubs and cafes with bands playing, and over to Waterloo Records, where there was a Leonard Cohen tribute in progress. I bought some classical CDs there, and then stopped by the Amy’s Ice Cream next door for refreshment before I started walking back toward the convention center. After I checked into my hotel room at the Springhill Suites by Marriott, I drove down to the Pappadeaux’s on I-35 and ate dinner, and then headed back downtown to a club on Neches Street called Fuze, where there was a hip-hop showcase in progress. I ran into the Dallas rapper Money Waters, and some of the people from Swisha House records, and then, as it got later, I walked back to my car and headed back out to the hotel.