In a history-making election Aug. 4, residents voted Steve Mulroy to the post of Shelby County District Attorney, the first Democrat in decades to hold the county’s role of top prosecutor. He ousted incumbent Amy Weirich, who had the position for 11 years.
Mulroy will be sworn into office Sept. 1. He will hold the office for the next eight years – the nation’s longest elected prosecutor terms.
The People’s Checklist: Shelby County resident’s top priorities for DA-elect Mulroy
- Create more transparency and accountability
- Establish a Conviction Review Unit
- Implement community-centered restorative justice practices
- Decrease transfer of youth to adult courts
- More community involvement and diverse staff, reflective of Shelby County’s demographics, in the DA’s office
On the campaign trail, he promised to bring reform to the DA’s office, prioritizing tackling violent crime and fixing the county’s bail system. Mulroy also campaigned on the promise to reduce the transfer of youth to adult court from juvenile court, which has a documented pattern of discriminating against Black children. His platform also included more funding for more police officers, a priority many community organizers would not support.
In an interview with MLK50, Mulroy said his victory builds on the years of work led by local, grassroots organizations. Now, those same organizations expect to see a return on the investment – in the form of carrying out commitments made on the campaign trail.
We asked some organizations what they’d like to see Mulroy do in his first year.
At the top of their list: Implement restorative justice practices, restore the public’s trust in local government and law enforcement, increase transparency in the DA’s office and establish a Conviction Review Unit.
Cherisse Scott, founder and CEO of SisterReach, a local reproductive justice organization
Scott highlighted the importance of having a DA with a cultural lens that centers the intersections of racial, economic and youth justice, especially in Shelby County. Here, the juvenile court and DA’s office have a pattern of regularly transferring youth – primarily Black youth – to adult court at the highest rate in Tennessee.
“Our young people are extremely profiled in our city. Our young people are the children of adults who have been impacted by COVID-19 and are unemployed. Many are unhoused. They are bearing the brunt of their parents or guardians’ frustration of not being able to properly take care of them,” Scott said. “Many of these children are taking matters to raise themselves into their own hands.”
LaKota McGlawn and Kylie Throckmorton, Memphis Seven
Two of the Starbucks workers who were fired in February for their unionization efforts said they appreciated how Mulroy showed up at their rallies and protests, even while he was on the DA campaign trail. McGlawn and Throckmorton said Mulroy’s commitment to workers and to young people in Memphis are what attracted them to his campaign. They want him to continue his show of support and to prioritize violent crime to make Memphis safer.
“I really just feel like there is a lot of change that Steve Mulroy could bring,” McGlawn said. “He is paying attention to this younger generation that is coming up.”
Chelsea Glass, organizer with DeCarcerate Memphis, a criminal justice reform organization
DeCarcerate Memphis wants to see a “total reboot” of the DA’s office, Glass said, especially by making efforts to dismantle the Multi-Agency Gang Unit. The unit is “incredibly problematic and dangerous,” she said. In conjunction with federal authorities, it operates as a “rogue agency” with a lack of community oversight and accountability.
She wants to see data transparency, including honing in on numbers like jail demographics and tracking the life cycle from the moment someone comes in contact with police until their case closes.
“I cannot overstate the importance of having data readily available, like in an open source format that is easily accessible for anybody in the public to access,” Glass said.
Makenzie Graham with Stand for Children, a local organization centered on youth justice
Like Glass, Graham also wants to see Mulroy prioritize transparency by making data readily available and easily accessible. Graham, who has a background in political organizing, wants the community more involved in the DA’s office in the form of an advisory committee.
The public’s interaction with elected officials is often on the government’s terms, Graham said. Changing the office’s culture requires going into neighborhoods and inviting the community into the DA’s space.
“I want to make sure that we can not just hold Steve Mulroy accountable but [help] to create a future that we haven’t seen yet, so that we can have a better future for the youth of today and tomorrow because that’s what it’s all about,” Graham said.
Alana Reece-Walker, Youth Justice Action Council college advisor
YJAC, a group of justice-impacted youth pushing for juvenile justice reform, has been calling for change in both the DA’s office and in the Shelby County Juvenile Court, most prominently with its 10 “Break the Chains” Demands. One of the top demands is to end the transfer of youth to adult court, a practice so regular in Shelby County that data show the county transfers more children than any other county in the state. The Aug. 4 election, Reece-Walker said, shows people listened to the youth and their concerns.
“That was our biggest ask,” she said. “Vote for those who can’t, and people did just that.”
YJAC wants Mulroy to use his background as a former U.S. Department of Justice civil rights lawyer to focus more on resources, rehabilitation, alternatives to detention and restorative justice, not building more detention centers and trying juveniles as adults, Reece-Walker said.
Janiece J. Lee and William Arnold, members of the Memphis Interfaith Coalition of Action and Hope
MICAH members also want Mulroy to focus on building transparency and accountability in his first year, especially by creating a Conviction Review Unit. Lee, MICAH’s vice president, said these are the issues on the hearts of the thousands of Shelby Countians they represent through their coalition.
Such a unit is what gave Arnold back his freedom. The native Memphian was wrongly convicted in 2013 in Davidson County and released from prison in February 2020 after Glenn Funk, that county’s DA, established a Conviction Review Unit that cleared Arnold of any wrongdoing. He said he wants to see similar justice brought to Shelby County.
Earle Fisher, founder of Up The Vote 901 and senior pastor of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church in Whitehaven
Fisher wants to see a commitment to diversity in the DA’s office, by building a staff that represents the demographics of Shelby County, where over half of the population is Black, according to census data.
“I think it’s important to have a network and a pool of staff that adequately represent what Memphis and Shelby County looks like,” Fisher said. “Representation and the politics of representation have some merit although they are not a magic wand.”
Diversifying the DA office’s staff is a task that can be done quickly under Mulroy’s leadership, Fisher said. Additionally, Fisher wants to see Shelby County decriminalize marijuana and respond to the county’s crime problem by “redirecting fiscal resources away from mass incarceration and into community resources.”
Tikelia Rucker, political organizer with Memphis For All
Like Fisher, Rucker said she wants Mulroy to stand by his campaign promises, especially in diversifying the DA’s office. She believes Mulroy can help move Shelby County forward in a way that’s beneficial for all residents.
“I just want [Mulroy] to follow through on the things he committed to do, moving forward with the racial equity audit, diversifying the district attorney’s office, just things of that nature,” Rucker said.
Part of Memphis For All’s mission is to empower residents to vote and realize their political power in local government. Rucker called voting the “first step”: “But there’s still other things that have to be done after we vote in the elected officials in office,” she told MLK50.
Rucker wants to see the DA’s office make a firm commitment to building relationships with community members and grassroots organizations to restore the public’s trust in the system.
“I am confident in [Mulroy’s] ability to do that,” Rucker said.
Brittany Brown is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email her at email@example.com
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