Public seminars on the crime issue are, in more than one sense, all the rage these days in Memphis and Shelby County.
Typical was one held Saturday in the Crichton College auditorium, sponsored by four members of the Memphis City Council and called a "Crime Town Hall Meeting." The well-attended event, presided over by freshman council members Jim Strickland, Reid Hedgepeth, Kemp Conrad, and Shea Flinn, covered the waterfront, as it were, featuring input from Linda Miller, program director of Operation Safe Community; Colonel Jeff Clark of the Memphis Police Department; District Attorney General Bill Gibbons; and several members of the state legislature.
Much of the fireworks came from the legislators - State Representatives G.A. Hardaway, Brian Kelsey, Mike Kernell, Jeanne Richardson, and John DeBerry Jr., and state Senator Beverly Marrero. Particularly memorable was Hardaway's assertion, apropos financial support for anti-crime programs, "Don't call me. I'm already on board. Call the governor!" That was followed by a similar statement from Kelsey, who pointed out that legislators themselves control only a minute portion of the state budget, most of which is prepared by the governor.
Noting that education and health care commanded greater priority in the state budget than crime control, Kelsey suggested that everyday functions like attending school and going to the doctor depended on public safety and might require a reordering of public priority.
Coincidentally or not, the legislators' emphasis on gubernatorial action came on the eve of Monday night's State of the State address in Nashville by Governor Phil Bredesen.
Phil Hudson of Cordova, who lives near the site of a fatal weekend shooting at the Trinity Commons shopping center, said he frequently attends such meetings and is increasingly alarmed by the crime problem. "We need more stuff like this," he said of Saturday's meeting, and he was particularly impressed by what the legislators had to say about Bredesen's role. "The best way to get legislation through our state is to contact our governor. And phone calls are better than emails. And personal visits are better yet."
Hudson said he was also impressed by D.A. Gibbons' summary of stiff sentencing procedures in New York State.
Other attendees had other insights. George Treadwell, a physician and activist, recalled the emphasis placed by several of the speakers on more prisons, accelerated law enforcement, and better-funded anti-crime programs and pointed out that almost everyone in the audience raised their hands when asked how many of them approved such approaches.
Shaking his head ruefully, Treadwell noted that the number of hands dropped drastically when audience members were asked how many of them would favor raising taxes to pay for these measures