If some Tennessee lawmakers have their way, criminal gang activity and gun violence will warrant harsher punishment for what is being called “community terrorism.”
Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-93, has introduced twin house bills, HB1320 and HB1321, to invoke harsher punishment for criminal enterprise and the threat of physical harm against community residents.
“Community terrorism is what it is,” said Hardaway. “All this gun violence taking over our streets has to stop. These young guys are harming people who don’t have anything to do with anything. Shooting into crowds and cars, not to mention peoples’ homes, has disturbed the peace of our communities and something has to be done, something that’s going to make a difference.”
Hardaway, along with co-sponsors Rep. Bruce Griffey, (R-75) and Rep. Carson W. Beck, (D-51), both of Nashville, will most likely see a floor vote taken on the two measures in two weeks, according to Hardaway.
“The first measure, 1320, makes it a criminal offense to force or coerce a person to join a gang,” said Hardaway. “And, the penalty would be based on the victim’s age. The second measure makes the reckless endangerment a Class C felony, that is, shooting into crowds, homes, and other areas of the community where people have a reasonable expectation of being safe.”
Memphis resident Angie Brooks has agreed to testify before the legislature in support of the proposed legislation. She is the aunt of Artemis “Shun” Rayford, the 12-year-old boy shot on Christmas morning as he sat in the living room playing with toys.
“I think these bills are important,” said Brooks. “My understanding is that these guys shooting up our neighborhoods won’t be in and out of juvenile court so quickly, just because they are under 18. They will get more time locked up. I think our streets would be safer.”
Hardaway said the bills would put teeth into penalties for violent offenders who just happen to be under 18.
“We want to give those punishing young offenders the use of blended sentencing,” said Hardaway. “This will allow offenders to be given both juvenile and adult time. Serial offenders of gun violence will not be afforded the leniency of lighter punishments just because they are juveniles. Too many are in for a time and then right back out on the streets.”
Brooks said while there still have been no breaks in the case involving her nephew, her family does not “want anyone getting off lightly just because they are under 18. … No family wants to see the killer of their loved one go unpunished or lightly punished for any reason. I want lawmakers to see the grief and headache families have to go through because of all the shooting in our streets.”
Brooks said Rayford’s mother and her sister still cannot speak of his death.
“I want to honor Shun by speaking up for him,” said Brooks. “His mother cannot do it. But I want lawmakers to know what kind of child he was. I want them to see the letter he wrote to Gov. Bill Lee, asking him not to sign the law allowing people to carry guns without a permit. I want them to see the effects gun violence is having on our families.”
Hardaway said a couple of lawmakers questioned the use of “terrorism” in the measure.
“If you look at the definition of terrorism, domestic terrorism or international terrorism, you’ll see that this is exactly what is going on in our communities,” said Hardaway.
“Violence and intimidation are being used to terrorize our citizens. We have seniors who can’t even walk up to the corner store because so much shooting goes on in some of our neighborhoods. This is community terrorism, and it has to be checked.”
Remembering her nephew as “a sweet child,” Brooks said, “I want to do this (testify before the legislature) for him. He would have been 13 on May 31. Shun had asked for a pool party on his birthday. We’re still going to have that party for him.”