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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Prosecuting non-violent crimes shouldn’t take a backseat, a community leader said after Memphis’ new, progressive district attorney vowed to focus on violent offenses.
Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy campaigned on redirecting “resources from minor, nonviolent offenses to serious, violent offenses.” He also said he would seek “community-based alternatives” to long term prison sentences for nonviolent criminals.
“I think the lock them up, throw away the key experiment that we’ve tried in the last couple of decades demonstrably hasn’t worked,” Mulroy told Fox News. “You’re going to have to prioritize something, and I’m just being honest about it.”
But Memphis community leader Detrick Saulter disagreed with Mulroy’s approach.
“I think all crimes should be a top priority,” said Saulter, who founded F.A.T.H.E.R.S., an organization working to enrich father-child relationships.
But dealing with Memphis’ violent crime is at the top of Mulroy’s agenda. The city faced a record 346 murders last year, while major violent crimes increased 18% from 2019 through 2021.
And soon after Mulroy was sworn in on Aug. 31 — making him the first Democrat to hold the position in decades — two violent Memphis crimes made national headlines. Teacher Eliza Fletcher was abducted and killed days before a gunman livestreamed a shooting spree, killing four and injuring three.
“The idea is to explore alternatives to just traditional incarceration for nonviolent offenses, to double down on enforcing violent offenses and to work on ways to make the system fairer,” Mulroy told Fox News.
By focusing on violent crime, police will have “less minor stuff” to “have to worry about,” Mulroy said. He expects law enforcement to be happy with the policy.
“Get away from the B.S. cases that don’t matter, focus on the stuff that actually matters, that will actually change people’s lives and make it safer,” Mulroy told Fox News. He said police will be able to prioritize “serious crimes” like “carjacking, domestic assault, homicides.”
Saulter, however, believes non-violent offenders will escalate their crimes if they go unpunished.
“If you just smoking marijuana, you could be easily influenced to go try to rob somebody by your peers or whatever,” he said. Marijuana “is a gateway to doing wrong.”
Mulroy specifically told a local news outlet he would “deprioritize lesser offenses like marijuana prosecution.”
Some in the community agreed with Saulter.
“All crimes need to be a priority,” a Memphis local, Larry, told Fox News. “This is what’s going on. They’re smoking weed, getting high, impaired and going doing crazy stuff.”
One woman, Raquel, told Fox News: “I know drug is nothing minor because of consequences behind it.”
“It just has to be a case by case basis,” she continued.
But some locals’ aligned more closely with the district attorney.
“Violent crimes, what’s going on right now, I think those are the things they need to focus,” one woman told Fox News. “They’re legalizing marijuana all over the place, so why spend revenue and budget money on that when you can get these people who just walk around shooting people for no reason?”
Tennessee is not one of the 19 states that has legalized recreational marijuana use.
“There’s a lot more things that Memphis really should be worried about outside of somebody having a joint or a little bit of drugs,” another man told Fox News.
The reality, Mulroy said, is that he doesn’t have the resources to prosecute every case.
“Give me 500 more prosecutors and give the police 3,000 more persons, and we’ll have the resources to prosecute everything,” Mulroy told Fox News.