As individual and organizational community stakeholders on the ground in Memphis, we are extremely concerned about HB 7073 – introducing a new, harsh blended sentencing scheme, as well as mandatory transfer to adult court, is not the answer to gun violence, and the bill is far too complex to consider in this short of a timeframe. While many of us have been engaged in conversations about sentencing reforms for older youth, such as blended sentencing or extended jurisdiction, the details of such a consequential change matter. 

Some representatives from the suburbs outside of Memphis and other parts of the state say that they are doing this “for the people in Memphis.” But the state representatives directly from Memphis and those of us on the ground are telling anyone who will listen that we do not want HB 7073. Here in Memphis, we don’t want to just do “something” for false appearances–we want to do the right thing for our young people and families across the state. Dwelling on this bill any further is a wasted use of time that should have been spent on protecting our children and communities with common sense gun safety legislation.

The concept of blended sentencing, which some stakeholders support, is for courts to have the ability to give older youth accused of serious offenses a juvenile court sentence and a suspended adult sentence that only comes into play if a youth is not able to be rehabilitated during their time in the juvenile justice system. As written, HB 7073 not only allows – but requires – juvenile courts to impose  years-long prison sentences on youth for offenses committed as young as the age of 14 without a jury trial or other due process safeguards, and does not allow the court to consider potential for rehabilitation in imposing that sentence. HB 7073 does not include any provisions for additional rehabilitative programming; the fiscal note of this bill only mentions increased expenditures related to incarcerating young people for longer. 

The Senate refused to consider more than 100 other bills in this special session because they were too complex to rush through in a matter of days, and HB 7073 is no different. We have only had the text of this bill for a little over a week. If we rush this bill through without properly vetting it and getting input from a wider range of experts and stakeholders, we run the risk of violating our young people’s constitutional rights. Blended sentencing schemes have been subjected to constitutional challenges in other states–careful drafting is necessary to ensure that constitutional rights of youth are protected.

HB 7073 is equally–if not more–complex than some of the others that were rejected, and it will have devastating impacts on a whole generation of young people and families across the state if allowed to go into effect as written and without more careful consideration. Sentencing reform is a topic that should wait until the regular session so that stakeholders not just in Memphis–but across the entire state–can weigh in on this important issue.

Organizations Signed on as of Monday, August 21:

A. Philip Randolph Institute

ACLU of Tennessee

African American Clergy Collective of TN (ACCT)

Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis (BCCM)

The Education Trust – Tennessee 

The Equity Alliance

Germantown Democratic Club

Just City

Memphis for All


NAACP Memphis 

Stand for Children Tennessee

Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Whole Child Strategies

When the governor announced the call for the extraordinary session on public safety, advocates and juvenile justice stakeholders were shocked to see only one item specifically related to guns, while 4 out of the 18 items listed were focused on juvenile courts, including expanding transfer to adult court, limiting expungements, and introducing a new blended sentencing scheme. When pressed on why, Republican leadership has deflected, saying that youth are responsible for a lot of crime. But their numbers simply don’t add up. 

Legislators claim over and over again that youth in Shelby County are more dangerous than ever, despite steady annual declines in youth arrests, and despite the fact that Shelby County’s rate of juvenile court referrals is lower than the state average. There is no data source that shows that youth are primarily responsible for Tennessee’s increase in gun violence–in fact, the data suggests that youth crime is unrelated. 

Over the past decade, crimes committed by youth in Tennessee have fallen by over 50%, for both serious and lesser offenses. Yet according to the Sycamore Institute, firearm related deaths in Tennessee have been steadily increasing for the past decade, and the Tennessee Department of Health’s 2023 Child Fatality Annual Report shows that firearms are the leading cause of death for children aged 0-17. This data shows us that youth are not the problem – widespread and unregulated access to guns is the problem.

The Sentencing Project, a national nonpartisan think tank, analyzed over a decade of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation data, and found that the youth arrest rate has fallen 23% more than the adult arrest rate since 2011. They concluded that the data suggest that the juvenile system is more effective in reducing offending and arrests than the adult criminal justice system. Proposals to move youth into the adult system are likely to increase offending.”

Youth crime is down, and the data suggests that the juvenile justice system is more effective at reducing crime than the adult criminal justice system. So why are our elected representatives holding closed-door meetings to push more young people into the adult system instead of answering our direct calls to take action on gun violence?

Source: Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, via the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center

The most extraordinary parts of this special session are its lack of transparency and scapegoating of Black youth in Shelby County. Make no mistake, we absolutely need to make improvements to continue supporting youth and families impacted by the juvenile justice system, expand prevention services, and keep our communities safe. But the positive changes we want to see will not come from a session in which legislators are using our young people as talking points to mask their continued refusal to respond to calls for common sense gun reform. 
No matter what happens during this special session, let’s make sure the legislature knows that we want and need common sense gun legislation to keep our children and communities safe. You can show your support by signing the petition launched by youth organizers in our community from the MICAH Youth Council: It’s time for our legislators to realize that youth are not the problem—they’re leading the way in creating the solutions.

Sunday’s rally to Combat Gun Violence and Empower Youth and Black Voters held in Memphis before the start of the special session was a powerful display of solidarity for area youth and key issues affecting their lives. Various community organizations came together to provide activities, resources, and information about critical topics like voting and public safety.

The event featured notable speakers like District Attorney Steve Cohen, State Representative G.A. Hardaway, District Representative Justin Pearson, and mayoral candidates Van Turner and Brandon Price. Rep. Pearson gave a passionate opening prayer that ignited spirits and set the tone for the important week ahead. Throughout the event, Rep. Pearson and other officials made time to speak directly with youth leaders in attendance.

Several speakers called for greater community accountability to stop gun violence, sharing lessons from their own past experiences to empathize with youth today. Others discussed how poverty, lack of resources, and neglect in many communities cause individuals to resort to violence out of desperation. Speakers emphasized the need for public officials and institutions to address these root causes. Other speakers called for recognizing the emotional toll of combating violence, and encouraged leaders to persist in doing this vital work while making time to rest and take care of themselves.

The rally included many engaging activities for young people. Game Changers provided chess games, Memphis Artists for Change performed socially conscious music, and youth poet Trekeria shared impactful works written during her experiences as a young person in the youth justice system. Attendees found relief from the heat with a food truck, water ice stand, and a bounce house. Voter registration and music from a DJ created an atmosphere of empowerment and community.

The Combating Gun Violence and Empowering Youth and Black Voters Rally brought people together to support Memphis youth, connect them with resources, and amplify their voices. The event offered hope for creating a more just and compassionate future through solidarity, civic engagement, and addressing core needs. United alongside youth, we will continue to push for a safe, just, and thriving future for our young people today, and generations to come!

The People for Fairness & Justice (PFJ) PAC has launched the Fight for Memphis campaign to engage voters around the upcoming mayoral election and secure the future Memphis deserves. Building on successful recent justice race victories, the nonpartisan campaign’s goal is to shape the race by elevating issues like justice, safety, opportunity and integrity.

This is a pivotal moment for Memphis, and this campaign is about fighting for the city we know is possible. We want to ensure voters have the information needed to move our city forward, not backward.

At the campaign’s website,, people can sign up to support the effort and donate to the cause. In the coming weeks, the campaign will endorse a candidate who will lead Memphis into the future. The campaign will also discourage voting for candidates whose ideology and policies will continue stagnation, perpetuate the status quo, and contribute to Memphis’ challenges.

The campaign’s public debut is a digital advertising effort against Floyd Bonner, whose mismanagement of 201 Poplar during his tenure as Shelby County Sheriff led to deaths, illness, and dangerous working conditions for the staff. We can’t let 201’s crisis become 901’s future, so PFJ will share communications materials, volunteer resources, and candidate information to help voters choose a Mayor that will lead us to a brighter future. 

PFJ believes Memphis is ready to turn the page and write a new chapter. In addition to a digital advertising effort, Fight for Memphis will organize canvassing, phone banking, forums and other get-out-the-vote efforts in the months leading up to the October election. In the crowded field of 17 candidates, we intend to get out the vote for our endorsed candidate to help elect our next Mayor with a larger, more representative group of voters. 

This is about realizing the full potential of the city we love,. We encourage all residents who believe in Memphis to join the fight.

With the 2023-24 school year and August’s special session around the corner, thousands of students, families, and teachers are facing challenges from the punitive Third Grade Retention law that took effect this year. To share information and gather stories, Stand for Children, MICAH, and Momentum Memphis are participating in Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment (SOCM)’s #MoreThanATest Day of Action with a canvass on Saturday, July 15.

We demand that the third-grade retention law be placed as a priority at the legislative special session this summer. Retention decisions should be determined by those that know our students best and should consider their entire academic performance, instead of basing the decision on a single standardized test. This Saturday, we will hear from teachers, parents, and students about the effects of this retention law.

We repeat: our students are so much more than a test!

In light of the persistent need to fund necessary community services in Memphis and Shelby County to improve our safety and wellbeing, the Moral Budget Coalition supports adding sustainable revenue to both the City and County budgets. 

Conservative state laws and decades of fiscally conservative local leadership have limited our options for providing the resources we need to invest in under-resourced people and communities, so increasing property tax is one of the only remaining progressive avenues to raise our local revenue. As we have expressed in previous budget cycles, the Moral Budget Coalition supports efforts to raise revenue for both the city and the county to invest in public transit (MATA), affordable housing, school facilities, Regional One, youth programs, and other services that promote our health and well-being. 

A budget is a moral document. Currently, our local budgets allot a disproportionate portion of funding to police and the criminal justice system, instead of expanding critical social services. In fact, the conservative revenue-neutral state law, along with a constant local focus on lowering the property tax rate, ensures that we will not keep pace with inflation, much less increase revenue required for expansion of critical services. 

Lowering the property tax rate over the last 20 years has notably benefited the people living in areas that have seen the greatest increase in their property values (East Memphis, Downtown, Midtown, Poplar Corridor). Our under-resourced communities (majority Black) are left to suffer from the lack of investments in social services and supports that could drive economic mobility. 

During the 2023 budget cycle, we led an email campaign on the City and County levels to urge City Council to vote to increase property taxes to fund healthcare and our public transit system, and to urge the County to increase property taxes to fund new schools and a hospital upgrade. Despite these efforts, both budgets were passed without property tax increases. Our work over the past three budget cycles has laid a solid foundation for more success in the future, and we look forward to continuing to work with Shelby County and the new Memphis administration to find ways to add sustainable revenue sources so we can fully fund the services that will contribute to our health and safety going forward.

At the beginning of the search a year ago, school board members committed to having a new, permanent MSCS Superintendent before the start of the 2023-2024 school year, and that the current interim–who has no background in education–would not be a contender for the position. 

Now, the 2023-2024 school year is right around the corner, and we still do not have a new superintendent. With Board Member Sheleah Harris’ mid-meeting resignation and the unwarranted bans of five activists speaking on behalf of students, community trust in the School Board is at an all-time low. Instead of using the pause to reset and bring integrity into the process, the Board restarted the search by establishing new minimum qualifications that watered down important long-standing policy criteria. These changes would allow the current interim to be considered as a finalist despite failing to meet the original minimum criteria. 

The Momentum Memphis Coalition is deeply concerned for our students as this process continues to be full of politics, power plays, and a disregard for community input. We will gather at the MSCS Board meeting on Tuesday, June 27 at 5:30 PM (in the back parking lot) to speak to these concerns and state our demands.

In 2021, the Moral Budget Coalition (MBC) united to advocate for the government budgets in Memphis and Shelby County to prioritize investments in people and communities, especially those in under-resourced areas. The Moral Budget Coalition has reviewed the new investments proposed in Mayor Harris’ budget for essential infrastructure improvements to Regional One Health and school capital projects that include bringing new high schools to Frayser and Cordova. We believe these investments align with our values and support a budget that prioritizes improving the quality of our public school systems and medical services. 

New investments such as these sometimes require bringing in new revenue. The mayor has proposed increasing the wheel tax (motor vehicle registration fee) to provide the needed revenue this time. Since our founding, the MBC has been a strong proponent for generating new revenue, recognizing that conservative state laws and decades of fiscally conservative local leadership have limited our options for providing the resources we need to invest in under-resourced people and communities. Because this type of tax is regressive, we met with the mayor to identify opportunities that could limit the impact on those with the fewest resources. 

We support the investments for Regional One and new schools. We support viable revenue options that fund these investments. The County Commission should not dismiss the current revenue solution without having a clear, viable solution to secure these investments that can achieve the votes needed to pass. We encourage all County Commissioners to vote to approve the wheel tax increase on its first reading at the June 5th meeting. This allows the Commissioners and the public to review and compare any alternatives that should arise at the meeting. If there is an equitable proposal that will limit negative impacts while showing viability and sustainability, we look forward to seeing that and comparing it to the wheel tax proposal.

Representative Justin J. Pearson has shown us all that he’s ready to stand up for young people and bring Memphis’ voice to the Legislature, even in the face of immense opposition. After he and Rep. Justin Jones were unjustly expelled, Rep. Pearson continued to raise the consciousness of our state and country, even having the ear of the President and Vice President. 

We need Rep. Pearson’s voice in the upcoming special session and beyond to protect our children from gun violence, fight for restorative justice and mental health support in schools, and push anti-poverty legislation to prevent violence from occurring in the first place. We know he’ll keep elevating important Memphis issues on the state and national levels during his whole term, and we’re proud to officially endorse Rep. Justin J. Pearson for District 86!

Ninth grade is a make-or-break year for students. If a student ends ninth grade “on-track,” meaning having successfully completed at least a quarter of the credits needed to graduate, they are 3-4 times more likely to graduate on time than their off-track peers. This session, our Center for High School Success team advocated for HB 1295, which would invest in targeted 9th grade student success supports, and it passed almost unanimously! This new investment will increase awareness of best practices to support 9th grade success across Tennessee, which will allow schools to set up systems that help our students finish their freshmen year on track and ultimately improve graduation rates throughout the state.

HB 1295 was one of the 2023 winners of EdTrust TN’s Ten for Tennessee award, and CHSS’ important work to increase freshmen on-track rates is featured on our website.