New Tennessee Law Cracks Down on Gang Crime

New Tennessee Law Cracks Down on Gang Crime

The state is sending a direct message to gang members: if you commit a crime you will do the time. Sentences are about to get a lot longer.
New Tennessee Law Cracks Down on Gang Crime
MEMPHIS, TN (localmemphis.com) - Think about this: there are twice as many gang members as law enforcement officers in Tennessee.

The state is cracking down on the thugs and criminals. A bill signed into law this week allows tougher sentences for those committing gang related crimes.

The state is sending a direct message to gang members: if you commit a crime you will do the time. Sentences are about to get a lot longer.

"Tennessee is tired of the terror of these gang members," says Shelby County prosecutor Ray Lepone.

From murders to robberies, if known gang members are committing crimes, they can expect harsher sentences.

"We know who you are and we are going to come after you with harsher penalties," says Lepone, who helped write the bill.

He's doing all he can on the legal side to deter gang crime. He sees gang members when it's too late.

Reverend Joe Hunter is on the other side. He runs a youth ministry in Frayser trying to reach kids before they join gangs.

"I'm thankful Governor Haslam has brought attention to the gangs," he says. "There's more to it than just incarceration."

He works with kids to prevent them from joining gangs.

Friday, he was out with a group who are part of the Junior Blight Patrol. They were removing gang graffiti from Westside Middle School in Frayser.

"It will keep other students focused on the teachers instead of trying to read what's on the desk," says Patrick Gallardo.

"Fights will stop happening," says Elizabeth Thomas. "I have no association with gangs or anything like that. I think education is a lot more important than being in gangs and stealing and shooting people, all that."

"All throughout the neighborhood it's the Crips, GDs, Bloods. There's just a whole lot," Gallardo says.

"All of these young men could be involved in gangs right now," Hunter says. "Thank God they're here working with us removing gang graffiti."

"You need to reach them where they are before they become gang members."

Before it's too late, and they end up in Lepone's courtroom, then in a jail cell.

"If you want to run around with a violent street gang and you start committing these crimes you're going to be treated differently," Lepone says.

Tennessee's new law takes effect July 1st.
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