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VOL. 129 | NO. 175 | Tuesday, September 9, 2014

City's Response to Poplar Plaza Attack Charts New Path

By Bill Dries

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The next front in City Hall’s discussion of youth violence won’t be another crime summit.

The Kroger store at the Poplar Plaza shopping center was the scene of an attack over the weekend that was captured on video.

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

The last one happened just days before and within a mile of the Poplar Plaza shopping center where a mob of teenagers attacked, beat and injured three people Saturday, Sept 6.

Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said the consultations among civic leaders and law enforcement officials that followed has focused on a way to hold accountable the parents of those in the mob.

“Especially in those incidents where we can prove that you were fully aware of your kid’s actions but chose not to step in and take any corrective action,” Armstrong said Sunday outside the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library, the site of the earlier town hall meeting on youth violence.

“Again, where are your children?” Armstrong asked as his investigators worked to determine the identity of those who gathered at the CiCi’s Pizza in Poplar Plaza and from there attacked three people in the Kroger parking lot – a shopper entering the store and two store employees who came to the aid of the shopper.

“When is it ever acceptable to drop your kids off in an environment with no parental control at all?” Armstrong asked rhetorically. “You are talking about two companies that have literally bent over backward to create opportunities for our youth, and it backfires on them.”

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. also emphasized the role both companies have played in a point certain to arise in any broader discussion of the incident – a perennial opinion in numerous civic discussions that have followed incidents like Sunday’s attack.

“I hope nobody will try to use as an excuse, ‘Well, the children need something to do,’” Wharton said. “We’re not going to accept that they didn’t have anything to do, so they went out and formed a mob. That dog will not hunt in Memphis, Tenn.”

The new Poplar Plaza Kroger – the largest in Memphis at 81,500 square feet – opened in the spring of 2013. It was built following the demolition of the former Kroger in the same general area in the northeastern corner of the shopping center.

The new supermarket is part of Kroger’s renovation of numerous stores in the Memphis market, in which the company has invested millions of dollars.

Wharton and Armstrong talked throughout the day Sunday with Kroger executives as well as the owner of the CiCi’s Pizza location and Finard Properties LLC, the owners of Poplar Plaza, which was the first suburban shopping center in Memphis.

“Every time we need summer jobs, the first person we call are the folks over at Krogers. Thirty-five people, many of them young folks, working in CiCi’s Pizza there,” Wharton said. “So the very places that we could get jobs for young people, ironically, are the ones who are threatened by this kind of conduct. It simply cannot be tolerated.”

The tough talk, however, takes a turn when it comes to how the criminal justice system should deal with the attackers and/or their parents.

At least for now, that turn sidesteps another perennial issue in such discussions: whether law enforcement deals more aggressively and harshly with black teenagers and young adults in such instances than it does with white teenagers and young adults.

Wharton and Armstrong are encouraging parents to take a good look at the YouTube video that quickly went viral and act if they see their children in the video.

“We need to hear from you, and it probably would be a little bit better for you if we heard from you first without us going through an intensive investigation and have to find you,” Armstrong said.

By Monday morning, police had arrested a 15-year-old boy and charged him in Juvenile Court. There was no immediate word from police on whether the boy’s parents brought him in or police found him through other information.

Wharton, an attorney and former Shelby County public defender, said he may be willing to intervene if parents of those involved contact police.

“I wonder when are some of them going to say, ‘I just saw you on television. Get in the car. We are going Downtown so you can be held accountable,’” Wharton said. “Once you do find out, that’s the measures of good parenting. Any parent who tells you that they know everything their children do when they are out of sight, they’d better get a reality check. … Parenting is not only preventing. Parenting is accepting responsibility and making amends once you do something wrong.”

Other political leaders had similar thoughts Sunday via social media.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson tweeted, “God forbid if one of those kids would’ve gotten shot while attacking or being in the crowd at #Kroger, then you’d want to march and protest. … You should be marching and protesting these acts of these kids. #NoMoreExcuses #ControlYourKids.”

Still others on social media tweeted from Poplar Plaza Sunday evening, encouraging others to shop at the Kroger.

PROPERTY SALES 101 603 9,602
MORTGAGES 92 538 10,616
BUILDING PERMITS 215 1,282 20,958
BANKRUPTCIES 51 408 6,108