As we look ahead to a new year, I have asked some Memphians who care deeply about their city’s future for their resolutions or reflections for 2024. I am deeply grateful for their thoughtful submissions.   

The following is from Shelby County Attorney General Steve Mulroy who took office 15 months ago in the midst of a historic increase in violent crime over the previous three years.  He was elected because the increase was compelling evidence that new strategies were needed if the crime rate is to decline and that they were working in other cities.  He is a former Shelby County commissioner and law professor at University of Memphis where he taught criminal law, criminal procedure, constitutional law, and civil rights. 

Attorney General Steve Mulroy: 

“Pray for peace, people everywhere.”  This plea comes from my favorite Christmas Carol, “Do You Hear What I Hear?”  I just recently learned that it was written at the height of, and inspired by, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.  The dialogue among Night Wind, Little Lamb, Shepherd Boy, and Mighty King is certainly evocative, but that one lyric, at a time when people legitimately feared nuclear destruction, seemed on the nose. 

As we start a new Year in Memphis, I’m praying for peace, and wishing all my Shelby brothers and sisters will do the same. 

2023 was a challenging year for us.  At year’s beginning, we became global news with the Tyre Nichols tragedy.  Though nothing can undo the trauma of that event, we can derive some consolation from the fact that we—all of us—handled the case swiftly, fairly, transparently, and peacefully.  Memphis didn’t burn, and neither did any of the other major cities with large protests following the release of the video. 

I’m praying that we learn some lessons about reform from this tragedy.  We’re generally not good at nuance, but we need to understand  both that the vast majority of police are persons of good faith, and also that there are issues of culture and process crying out for systemic reform.  The crime issue has eclipsed this issue in the minds of many, but we can’t forget that Tyre Nichols isn’t an isolated incident.  The problem isn’t fixed, and there’s work still to do.

As the year continued, the need for peace prayers mounted.  The daily “if it bleeds it leads” nightly news body count of shootings and killings can seem overwhelming, regardless of whether we’re personally affected. The stark reality of rising local gun violence has been bad enough, and the perception of danger even worse.  It doesn’t help when people parade through neighborhoods with AR-15s, frightening parents into school lockdowns.  When it comes to public safety, perception can drive reality in a vicious cycle. 

To be sure, we need strong enforcement, especially on repeat or violent offenders. That’s an essential part of the solution, but not all of the solution.   

I’m praying for the curve of violence to flatten, and then decline.  I’m praying that victims and their families receive solace, that grief can turn to resolve and then to hope.  I’m praying that along the way, the media provides accurate information about how our criminal justice system works, and doesn’t give in to the temptation to provide context-free, “cue outrage” clickbait.  That local leaders stop pointing fingers and start joining hands to make us safer.  That state leaders understand that we need more than the failed “lock ‘em up more and longer” policies of the last decade—instead, we need sensible filters on the rivers of guns flooding our county, and adequate funding for rehabilitative interventions proven to keep people from reoffending.  And I’m praying that our public discourse stops obsessing on sentence lengths and bail amounts (which will not make us safer)  and instead focuses on how to increase our crime solve rate and decrease our recidivism rate (which will).

That’s a lengthy Christmas list.  I learned as a kid you can shoot for the whole shebang, but it’s smart to focus on one or two to increase your chances that Santa will come through.  So let me boil it down to a simple prayer that all of us—would-be shooters and carjackers, domestic disputants, political opponents, and neighbors of every variety, spatial and cyberspatial—recognize each other’s humanity, so that we can temper our impulses with a little empathy.  And that all of us temper our anxieties with a little perspective.  

Praying for peace seemed to help keep us calm when we worried we were on the brink of thermonuclear Armageddon in 1962.  We can use a little of that here in Memphis in 2024.

Pray for peace, people.  Everywhere.