VOL. 131 | NO. 20 | Thursday, January 28, 2016
Two Binghampton Gangs Targeted In Latest Zones
By Bill Dries
Memphis’ latest no-gang zones take in a swath of real estate one may not normally associate with crime and violence: a country club, the Shelby Farms Greenline and an elementary school, to name a few.
It’s the city’s most recent effort, this time in the Binghampton neighborhood, to make certain territory off limits to gang action.
The zones border or encompass Chickasaw Country Club, the western end of the Shelby Farms Greenline, a Memphis Police Department precinct, Cornerstone Preparatory School and Lester Community Center. In the center is Howze Park, where District Attorney General Amy Weirich and Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced the overlapping “Binghampton Safety Zone” Tuesday, Jan. 26, just a few steps from gang graffiti on the playground. The number 300 and a cluster of grapes spray-painted on the ground marked it as the turf of both the Vice Lords and the Grape Street Crips.
A court order from General Sessions Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter approved the zones, which were sought by Weirich’s office.
A total of 50 members of the two Binghampton street gangs have been barred by two court orders from congregating and otherwise associating in public within the zones.
The declarations are the fifth and sixth no-gang zones in Memphis since 2013.
“Without using handcuffs some 50 gang members were told today, ‘Get out and stay out of this area,’” Weirich said, describing the gang-related crimes and violence as done “in the name of business, in the name of power, in the name of greed and evil.”
Weirich and Strickland each acknowledged civic momentum in the area where transition is ongoing.
“There’s not one thing that’s going to bring peace to all communities,” Weirich said. “Having a precinct here is a great thing for the community – having the art garden, having this park, having the Lester Community Center. … Of course, locations where people tend to congregate also become tomorrow’s crime scene.”
Strickland referred to “steps along the journey” of changing the area.
“What makes this action so necessary in my mind is these perpetrators use this park and the school down the street where children should be running and playing and be carefree,” he said. “They use it to plan and conduct their illegal activities.”
Colin Campbell of the prosecutor’s office also talked about that reality versus longer prison sentences for selling drugs with 1,000 feet of a school, not to mention a school less than a mile from a police precinct.
“We bought drugs all day long in the month of December out here – within 1,000 feet of a school,” Campbell said in the park with Cornerstone Prep close enough to read the Lester School signage atop the building. “It didn’t deter anybody. Every time an undercover officer showed up he bought drugs.”
In seeking the court orders, police and prosecutors compile crime statistics as well as conduct undercover operations in the area. In the Binghampton no-gang zones, crimes considered in making the case included – for the first time in the use of the court actions – domestic violence.
“Just like with gang crimes, where it’s about power and control, the same threads run through every domestic violence case that we see in this community – the same threads of power and control,” Weirich said. “The violence in the home all too often finds its way out here on the sidewalk.”
Also for the first time in the use of the no-gang zones, the court order targets members of two violent street gangs instead of just one.
“While they are able to get along, sometimes peaceful, sometimes not, they do share the area,” Campbell said. “But they don’t share it with anyone else and it’s mostly because these two groups grew up together. … When you looked at them as a whole they were more likely to commit crimes together.”
That included members of the Multi-Agency Gang Unit stopping cars where those in both gangs were sitting side by side.
Ahead of the no-gang zones declarations, Tillman Food and Deli, 245 Tillman St., in the same area, was closed in December under a public nuisance court order because of illegal gang activity on the property.