Playing Politics with Public Safety

Even in this time of divisive rhetoric and politics, we can agree that all of us want to feel and to be safe.

But what is safety? If you ask people what safety means to them, you will get a wide range of answers.

Safety is not just the absence of violence, as our colleagues at Equal Justice USA (EJUSA) remind us. Instead, a community is safe when it is thriving and the well-being of its people is on the rise. That means ensuring that people have good jobs, quality housing, access to every facet of health care, excellent education, and more.

When people don’t have what they need to thrive, then crime and violence will follow. A recent report by Prison Policy Initiative show that Tennessee has the 9th highest per capita incarceration rate in the world, with little impact on violence. The only nation that incarcerates more per capita is El Salvador. According to the report, Tennessee incarcerates 817 individuals in state prisons, local jails, federal prisons, and other systems of confinement per 100,000 people.

Still, some of Tennessee’s lawmakers tell us that we are not locking up enough people. They jump on the fear and outrage we experience in the wake of violent incidents to double down on expanding a decadeslong, failed mass incarceration experiment instead of listening to the needs of those most impacted by violence and following the data to find the most effective way forward.

Since District Attorney General Steve Mulroy was elected in Shelby County a few years ago, some Tennessee lawmakers have been laser-focused on finding a way to subvert the will of Memphis voters and to oust him from serving as DA, simply because they don’t like his politics. There has been a concerted effort to provide misinformation to the public, laying the blame for violent crime in Memphis at the feet of General Mulroy and using this narrative to strengthen the power of the Tennessee Attorney General while taking power from elected prosecutors.

MLK50, a nonprofit Memphis newsroom focused on poverty, power and public policy, recently published this story by Katherine Burgess, “State Sen. Taylor is seeking to oust DA Mulroy. The move is rooted in misinformation.”

According to the article:

“In a news conference held June 17, Taylor would not give specific examples of instances when Mulroy has refused to prosecute broad swaths of crimes, instead referring reporters to his X (formerly known as Twitter) and Facebook pages…MLK50 could not find an example cited by Taylor in which Mulroy has, of his own volition, decided not to prosecute entire types of crimes. Here, we go through some of Taylor’s most frequent criticisms of Mulroy and why they are misinformation.”

Particularly if you live in Memphis, I hope you will read this article to better understand the degree to which misinformation and lack of context are distorting the realities on the ground and distracting from the real work that all of us, regardless of politics, need to do to truly tackle the issue of violence in our state. Until we can have honest conversations based on facts and center the voices of those who are most impacted, our communities will not experience the safety that we all deserve.

Read the MLK50 article here.

Photo by Laramie Renae

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