published Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

Prosecutors go after Memphis gangs in novel way

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Prosecutors in Memphis are using a novel approach to tackle street gangs: They're calling them a nuisance.

Using a 2009 state law that has never been used in Memphis, Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich and Memphis City Attorney Herman Morris have filed a nuisance petition against a gang called the Riverside Rollin' 90's Neighborhood Crips.

According to The Commercial Appeal, General Sessions Judge Larry Potter on Monday signed an order for injunctive relief against the gang, which has been accused of robberies, dealing drugs and using violence in a south Memphis neighborhood. Police received about 1,200 calls with at least one shooting call per day in a 10-month span in the neighborhood.

Potter declared a 4.6-square-mile area of south Memphis as a "Safety Zone," issuing rules aimed at limiting gang activity. The area has about 4,000 residents.

Gangs are a persistent problem in Memphis, where federal and state law enforcement agencies have teamed to create task forces and anti-gang units to combat gangs that target youths as members.

Among the rules outlined by Potter are restrictions against possessing guns, drugs and graffiti tools. Alleged gang members also are barred from trespassing, forcible recruitment of potential gang members, and "appearing together in public view or anyplace accessible to the public" -- with the exception of church or school.

"We'd like the residents of Riverside to know we're not targeting association, we're targeting criminal conduct," Weirich said at a news conference Monday.

Members of the Multi-Agency Gang Unit went door-to-door, serving notice about Monday's hearing in Environmental Court to eight suspected Crips leaders. One gang member actually showed up to listen to the allegations, but he didn't try to defend himself or his gang.

Some residents of the neighborhood welcome the new approach, saying they don't consider the nuisance action intrusive because they're more focused on ending the violence.

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