MEMPHIS, Tenn — City leaders, organizers and even rapper NLE Choppa hoped to get through to young people during Black Men Crowned’s second annual "Speak Up" town hall meeting Saturday.
From car theft to getting in trouble at school, young people and their parents came out in search of answers.
“Memphis has a high crime rate due to little kids being desensitized to things like murder and crime and stealing," one youth attendee said.
A few hundred gathered in south Memphis Saturday; young people, their parents and some city leaders heard from youth about crime, mental health and other issues they face.
“Mental health; physical health, depression, anxiety [are just] just troubles you face as a child — as a teen," Memphis native and rap artist NLE Choppa said. "Because I feel like that’s a transformative period, you know, you’re transitioning from a kid to a young adult — from a young adult to an adult.”
In 2022 there were over 2,000 criminal suspects under the age of 18.
So far, this year, according to deputy chief Paul Wright, 114 youth have been arrested for car theft alone. The meeting was an effort to prevent the trend from continuing in 2023.
“It helped me to better understand young people because they spoke on the things they’re having problems and challenges with," Wright said. “All these things are things that we’ve already talked about in our organization, law enforcement and we have to get the community back involved in what’s going on out there.”
Choppa, who partnered with host organization Black Men Crowned, says it’s time to have the tough conversations and work with young people to create a better Memphis.
“Can we take somebody's stuff and get away with it," Choppa said. "No one is really shining a light on the people that ire losing their life behind it or the people that are working hard and [things are] getting taken from them.”
City officials say the conversation was very candid and has challenged them to work urgently to provide more support for youth in the city, especially as we enter the Spring and Summer months.
“As far as programming and in our parks and different areas that we have immediate access to — most of the things are going to be long-term as we enter to budget, but my colleagues and I are talking about how we can improve the situation for young people [and] give them more opportunity," councilwoman Rhonda Logan said.