There are lots of teddy bears and other stuffed animals in the Riverside neighborhood declared the city’s first no-gang zone this week by a General Sessions Environmental Court order.
Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich kicks off the city’s first no-gang zone. The zone, in the Riverside area, allows police to arrest identified gang members who are simply congregating in public.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
A large cluster of the toys are attached and strapped to a large tree that shades the gang graffiti-scarred abandoned house at the corner of Farrington Street and Hollowell Avenue.
Local and federal law enforcement officials made the no-gang zone announcement in front of the house. They could also see another cluster of more-weathered stuffed animals attached to a nearby utility pole on one of the other corners. And by the side of the house, even more of the stuffed toys are draped over a chain-link fence in front of a house across Hollowell.
The toys are used across Memphis to mark the places where people have been shot and often killed. Their abundance in the area in which a court order forbids known gang members from associating – even standing on the street together – is an indicator of just how hard it will be for authorities to make the zone work.
The zone is bordered by South Parkway East to the north, West Mallory Street on the south, U.S. 55 on the west and Florida Street on the east.
It is the Riverside area once dominated by and home to Memphis drug kingpin Craig Petties.
Petties is a Gangster Disciple, according to federal court documents in the case that led to his guilty plea and sentence to nine life federal prison terms. His gang membership and that of the others named in the largest and most-violent drug organization ever brought into the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee wasn’t a major factor in the court case or the testimony at the trial of the two members of the organization who did not plead guilty.
The Riverside Rolling 90s Crips, the gang targeted by the court order, are now the dominant gang in the area, according to police. But they recently have had competition from rival gangs. One of the gang markings painted over by a city crew immediately after this week’s press conference read “RIP Rolling 90s” with X’s over logos for the gang.
Assistant City Attorney Rob Ratton made the case to Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter for the court order that imposes the zone.
“This is an entrenched criminal element. The Riverside Rolling 90s have taken over this neighborhood,” he said. “They are a violent organization. … There are other rival gangs that they are starting to fight with.”
The use of the zone is also an indication that authorities are applying the philosophy of imposing conditions on gang members in something approaching the degree to which the gangs have imposed their presence on the neighborhood.
“There is strength in numbers,” was how Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich began the announcement of the zone. “Bringing this injunctive relief will help us do what law enforcement cannot do. That is to not allow groups of gangs to stand together. There is strength in numbers. Gangs know that.”
Weirich and the other law enforcement leaders insist they are not targeting associations but rather criminal conduct with unusual conditions warranted by the extreme violence in the area.
The Multi-Agency Gang Unit undertook a 10-month investigation to document the shootings and other violence in the area and identify 40 members of the Rolling 90s Crips who were served with the court order this week. The investigation logged 1,200 calls to police from the area in that time, including at least one shooting per day. The tally includes four people who were shot in the single incident at Farrington and Hollowell. Police serving the court orders on one gang member stopped a robbery in progress.
“You’re not going to be allowed to loiter. You are not going to be allowed to recruit. You’re not going to be allowed to be in (gangs),” she said. “And if anyone wants to get out of the gangs, now is your opportunity. Now is your chance.”
Weirich emphasized that the zone will not mean blanket law enforcement that doesn’t distinguish between gang members who live and operate in the area and others who live in the area. It is expected to distinguish between a gang member who can be arrested for standing with other gang members on the street and the brother of a gang member standing in the same group who isn’t in a gang.
“So many of the residents will tell you they won’t leave home. … When they go to bed at night, they sleep on the floor for fear of the bullets coming through the window. They put the babies in the bathtub,” she said. “We hope that kids can walk to school without being harassed by the gang members.”