MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Right now, there are nearly 200 documented gangs in the city of Memphis. That number’s been soaring recently and those gangs are spreading across the county, not just in the inner city as previously thought.
Many of these gang members break into homes, rob stores and commit other crimes to maintain their status.
“They’re everywhere,” said Lt. Andre Pruitt. “Gang members are not just in Memphis or Southaven or Hickory Hill. They’re in Cordova. They’re everywhere.”
Police said there are currently 12,850 documented gang members in the city of Memphis and 2,750 of those members joined in the past three years. That averages out to more than two new people a day.
It gives people like Assistant District Attorney Paul Hagerman a challenge.
“It seems like as many as we lock in jail, there are two or three ready to step in,” said Hagerman.
Officials said there used to be only a handful of prominent gangs that started out in areas like what used to be the infamous LeMoyne Gardens Project, but now different neighborhoods are starting their own gangs and members don’t feel loyal to just one anymore.
“[There are] more of these little cliques or little gangs that seem to be particularly violent and need less and less of a reason to resort to shooting a gun,” said Hagerman.
He said one of the most disturbing reasons gang members are firing shots is social media.
“It may start with a Facebook post or a tweet or an Instagram posting,” said Hagerman.
And it can be over something as simple as disliking a musician or posting a disrespectful status.
“Nowadays, we’re seeing less and less reasons for any of the violence,” said Hagerman.
Less reasoning for the violence and much younger faces making up the scene.
Authorities said kids are getting recruited to join gangs as young as 11 years old, whether that’s in their neighborhood or in their school — it can be anywhere.
“We used to see where there was an older person running everything, but it’s been changing a lot,” said Lt. Pruitt. “A lot of these younger kids with these offset groups — they’re totally different.”
He said the young gang members are carrying guns, breaking into cars and committing crimes in neighborhoods.
James Thompson said hanging around gang members seemed like the only option when he was growing up in the Lakeview Garden area.
“You see everybody growing up claiming, what they say, these sets and these colors and it’s appealing as a child,” said Thompson. “You want to be a part of something.”
Something that doesn’t encourage good behavior.
“Basically theft, robbery. I’d sell drugs,” said Thompson.
He landed in jail but recently turned his life around and joined the Young Man University where he’s now helping others from going down that same path.
“There’s so many in jail. There’s so many dead. It’s really a bleak outlook,” said Hagerman. “I wish the kids, young people, could understand that.”
The gang unit is one of multiple entities trying to intervene by speaking to kids in neighborhoods and at schools. They’re about to double in size, but experts told WREG they need more help than that.
“If we’re ever really going to fight this thing, we’ve got to commit ourselves across a broad spectrum of things,” said Hagerman.
Including in homes where parents might not realize their children’s friends aren’t who they seem to be.
Thompson recommended keeping tabs on those friends as well as your children’s phones and daily actions – all moves that could save a life.
“We have to fight for our children,” said Thompson. “If we don’t fight for them, who will?”
There are currently six gang injunction zones in Memphis where identified gang members are banned in the area for criminal purposes.
Authorities said they’ve seen crime drop in those areas due to this and continue to look at ways to minimize gang violence.