This week's Crime Tracker has a sobering new crime statistic. More than 167 youngsters in Memphis City and Shelby County schools were taken from classrooms directly to juvenile court jail so far this month.
No wonder Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons spends so much time visiting schools. Gang graffiti marks the walls of neglected, low income Memphis neighborhoods, but gangs now make their mark far from the "hood."
"Every single public middle school in the city of Memphis or in Shelby County to one degree or another has some degree of gang activity," said Gibbons.
D.A. Gibbons makes a point of visiting every public middle school in the city and county to warn young teens of the dangers of joining gangs. Gibbons says it's becoming more common now to learn middle class white kids have become gang leaders.
"What we're seeing is there are a lot of middle income kids becoming involved in gang activity. In fact, some of the biggest problems we have are in schools that are predominantly middle income areas in the county," Gibbons said.
The D.A. had three units of prosecutors focused separately on gangs, guns and drugs-- but now works on a united front.
"The same individuals are involved in all three. So you can't really separate gangs, guns and drugs...so from a prosecution standpoint and focusing our resources on that problem, we're combining our effort into one unit because we think that will be most effective," he said.
The idea is similar to how child abuse cases are pursued at the Child Advocacy Center: police, an Assistant D.A. and state child welfare workers met everyday to review cases. Gibbons says his team uses this kind of united approach as part of his updated strategic plan to fight criminal violence. Gibbons says our community focuses temporarily on gang related youth violence after tragedies like the death of 14-year-old Tarus Williams at Westside High School last month. Six other teens now face wreckless homicide charges and go to court next week.
"Frankly, I think we need a sense of outrage that is permanent until we have some dramatic reduction in our crime rate. And it's unfortunate that we had to have an incident like Westside," Gibbons said.