Shelby Co. lawmakers host town hall on public safety ahead of special session

Published: Aug. 1, 2023 at 6:55 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 1, 2023 at 10:52 PM CDT

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County lawmakers hosted a public meeting on Tuesday to improve public safety and curb gun violence ahead of Governor Bill Lee’s upcoming special legislative session.

Senate minority leader Senator Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), Tennessee House minority leader Representative Karen Camper (D-Memphis), and state Representative Jesse Chism (D-Memphis) initiated the town hall meeting at 6 p.m. at Riverside Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis.

Gov. Lee announced in the spring he would call a special session on public safety following the fatal Covenant School shooting in Nashville.

Tennessee now ranks among the top 10 states for firearm homicides, according to CDC figures included on—seventh for firearm homicides including all ages, and fifth for youth firearm homicides.

This month’s special session on public safety tentatively begins August 21st.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Memphians shared their personal testimonies on how violence in our community has affected their lives.

They also shared suggestions for lawmakers when they head back to Nashville.

The forum drew about 50 people to Riverside Missionary Baptist Church in Whitehaven.

One of those attendees was Dr. Altha Stewart, the senior associate dean for Community Health Engagement at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and the director for Youth Advocacy and Well-Being.

“The pipeline into the justice system is filled with kids who wanted to do better, they just didn’t know how,” said Dr. Stewart.

Stewart says there are no re-entry programs for children who come out of places like Wilder Youth Development Center.

She would like lawmakers to create better reentry plans for young people who get into trouble with crime.

“I don’t discount those as important, but the real programs are the ones that get to the child’s thinking changed, give them the skills to create change and then show them how to control some things in our lives that they can’t control using those new school skills so they can see a different path for themselves and their future,” said Dr. Stewart.

Riverside Missionary Baptist Senior Pastor Reginald Boyce agrees and says he’d also like lawmakers to focus on how young people who commit these crimes will be rehabilitated back into society.

“How do we bring these kids back into the community? We’ve seen them on the news,” said Pastor Boyce. “We’ve seen them everywhere but now bring them back as productive citizens, so I really want to see some laws around that to prepare our children to be citizens.”

Sen. Akbari says a task force of lawmakers, including herself, has been meeting with Governor Lee ahead of the special session.

Their final meeting is August 7.

She says there will be a slate of bipartisan legislation to come.

“It’s one thing to be in a government office making decisions on our own,” said Sen. Akbari. “It’s another to reflect the values, the ideas and the needs of the people in the community and that’s what we’re hoping to do with the information we gathered tonight.”

If you couldn’t make it out to Tuesday’s town hall, there is an online form you can fill out to share your opinion with state leaders ahead of the special session.

You can find a link for it here.

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