Former mayor faces backlash after linking crime rate to race

Former mayor faces backlash after linking crime rate to race
Published: Jan. 2, 2017 at 9:12 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2017 at 5:06 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Comments on race and crime in Memphis by former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton are continuing to spark dialogue in the black community.

Herenton first stated his position in an interview with WMC Action News 5 two weeks ago.

"I'm going to irritate some people when I make this statement. This is a black problem," Herenton said. "This is a black problem that uniquely impacts the fabric of the black community."

You can watch his entire speech at the link below:

Herenton said it again Saturday at Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland's New Year's prayer breakfast, where he was the featured speaker. Herenton said the black community in Memphis has not stepped up to adequately address ongoing societal ills.

"This wave of crime is a black problem. I'm going to reiterate that. It is a black problem," he said.

Pastor Earle Fisher with the Memphis Grassroots Coalition doesn't agree with Herenton's statements.

"We have a profound amount of respect and adoration for Mayor Herenton, but we do believe he is categorically wrong on this," Fisher said.

Fisher and others take issue with painting crime as the problem of a particular race, highlighting that doing so doesn't find solutions and perpetuates stereotypes.

"You cannot continue to demonize a particular group and say that all of the social ills lie on the backs of one particular demographic," Fisher said.

Fisher maintains poverty and crime are the two factors clearly linked, apart from race. He said education and jobs are the key to changing Memphis.

"There is no study that shows you can police your way into prosperity or peace. It is just not going to happen, so if we want a more peaceful, a more safe, a less violent community, we need to make sure people have access to adequate education and equitable employment more than they have access to guns," Fisher said.

Former Commercial Appeal columnist Wendi Thomas responded to Herenton's comments with a Facebook post. In one portion, she calls Herenton's comments racist. Click here to read the full post.

WMC Action News 5 asked Herenton Saturday to respond to his critics.

"All I was simply trying to do was to wake people up to the ugly realities that crime is a big problem, and black on black crime is a major problem," he said.

Herenton said he is trying to help by developing a mentoring program for young black youth through a nonprofit.

Copyright 2017 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.