Attorney and former federal prosecutor Linda Harris said she has firsthand knowledge that in Shelby County charges against people of color are more severe than for whites who commit similar offenses. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

A small, but enthusiastic crowd of supporters gathered at the Dr.  Martin Luther King Jr. Reflection Park for the kickoff of Linda Harris’ 2022 run for District Attorney in Shelby County.

Harris touted her extensive background in civil rights and restorative practice training as exceptional preparation for stepping into the office of District Attorney General of Shelby County.

“I think that my skills with restorative practice training – I’ve also attended the alternative-to-violence training, mediator, arbitrator – those are skills I will take with me,” said Harris.

Harris cited specific changes she felt were necessary for the office, expressing confidence that some occurrences have “to stop.”

“As a civil rights attorney, I can appreciate the constitutional rights of others,” Harris said.

The late-morning press conference was strategically staged in the downtown Memphis park, with Harris and her campaign team choosing the location understanding “all the significance” of using the space for announcing her candidacy.

For more than 20 minutes, Harris addressed the media. Fielding numerous news questions, she was asked to justify her candidacy and to lay out her reasons for challenging the present district attorney, Amy Weirich.

Harris said, if elected, she wants to address  what she called a “schoolhouse to jailhouse pipeline” in Shelby County.

“What I’ve seen, firsthand, is the labeling of our kids, and they’re labeled as being bad,” Harris said. “Therefore, they have to enter into the system. They are sent to alternative schools, and there is this pattern being formed, by the third grade, sometimes… I’ve seen what’s gone on like you’ve seen it, like everyone here has seen, and it’s time to end the racial disparity.”

Harris said there must be some consideration given to environmental and social causes for criminal behavior, not just building more jails for more offenders. The system is an evolved form of criminal justice that has existed in Shelby County for decades, Harris contended.

“So, you still have that same culture in that office, and it is time for a change… There is racial disparity in that system. If they would release the statistics, I think it would support what I say. I think that Black people, if they commit similarly situated crimes as White people, they receive more serious charges.”

Harris said building community partnerships with corporations, activists, community organizations and concerned citizens can bring about a multi-pronged solution to violent crime.

“Strategies have been devised for the community, but the community has not been given the opportunity to participate in planning or implementing those strategies,” said Harris.

Harris said in the year ahead, she will plan a series of information meetings for communities all across Shelby County where questions and concerns from individuals  will be addressed.

Weirich reacted to the announcement that Harris was challenging her in 2022.

“I can assure you that the solution to violent crime is not putting more violent criminals back on the streets,” said Weirich.  “Last year’s pandemic shows what happens when our judges and criminal justice system let too many dangerous criminals walk free – crime does, in fact, go up. The problem is not that we are too tough on crime. It’s that others in our criminal justice system are not tough enough. That’s a debate I look forward to having in the year ahead.”

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich was masked up during the second unity walk against gun violence held Feb. 27. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises)

Weirich kicked off her own re-election campaign on April 24, in Germantown. Several African-American ministers were in attendance and are standing with Weirich in her 2022 bid. Among them is Pastor Rickey Floyd, with Pursuit of God Ministries in Frayser.

“I am not for or against Amy Weirich,” said Floyd. “But I am for the Frayser Community. I support what is transforming my community. Under Amy Weirich, we have had 150 people get drivers licenses reinstated, more than 50 have had their criminal records expunged, and men who could not work or drive were put on a payment plan to catch up on child support. This does not mean I have agreed with everything she has done, but Attorney General Weirich has responded when I have asked for assistance in Frayser.”

Harris said she holds her record up as a constitutional and civil rights attorney against Weirich’s record.

Harris was a federal prosecutor for 15 years before leaving the U.S. Attorney’s Office to build a private practice. Harris represents persons who cannot afford to pay for representation in criminal and civil proceedings. Harris was also a former police officer.

“I know the challenges of poor and marginalized persons because I am their attorney,” said Harris.

“Prison sentences must be paired with community-based solutions for our criminal justice system to work fairly. The record number of homicides in Shelby County last year and this year proves that the current ‘tough on crime’ policies are not working. We must look at trauma and other underlying causes.”

(For more information about the Harris’ campaign, call: 901-484-4223.)