Gov. Kemp Takes a Stand Against Gangs; Sen Moore Opposes
Governor Intends to Uphold Yet Another Campaign Promise
In the summer of 1993, Atlanta was rocked by two heinous crimes committed by a little-known gang called Doom. The gang was responsible for the brutal torture and murder of two young girls who had fallen into the gang's clutches at an early age. Their tragic stories, and those of the nine young people who participated in their killings, are a stark reminder of the devastating impact that gangs can have on the lives of children and communities and offer undeniable justification for legislation making its way through the General Assembly this session.
A 13-year-old girl named Marsinah Johnson tried to escape Doom and received swift and brutal retribution. As her attempt failed, she was beaten, burned, shot, and ultimately left on railroad tracks to be mangled by a train. The second girl, 15-year-old Nekita Waller, was suspected of disloyalty to the gang and was subjected to a three-day ordeal that defies comprehension. Her torturers used every instrument at their disposal to inflict unspeakable pain. In addition to rape and physical beatings with bare hands, she was beaten with everything from speakers to fire extinguishers. She endured an aerosol can turned into a blowtorch. They doused her in rubbing alcohol and lighter fluid, stabbed her in the back, forced her to drink bleach, and eventually drowned her in a cooler full of water before dumping her body in a wooded area.
This incident, as with most gang crimes, has the infuriating fact that the gang recruited the victims at an early age. Unsurprisingly, the individuals who carried out their killings shared that trait with them, and it illustrates the human costs of gangs targeting and recruiting young people. As well as killing these two young girls, the killers ensured their imprisonment, meaning ten other children would grow up without their parents.
The story is gut-wrenching, with a tragic fallout that continues long after 1993. But it serves as a powerful argument for Senate Bill 44, the Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act, a bill designed to stop such tragedies from happening again.
Governor Kemp and Attorney General Carr support the bill as a part of their commitment to combat gang violence. The proposed statute creates a new offense for recruiting minors into gangs and imposes mandatory minimum sentences for gang-related crimes. Under the proposed law, those convicted of recruiting minors into a gang will face steep punishments: a first-time offense will result in 5-20 years in prison, while second or subsequent offenses will result in 15-25 years behind bars. It's a tough stance, but it's one that's sorely needed in a state where gang violence has exploded in the last 36 months.
Republicans Stand United Against Gangs, Almost.
The measure passed the state Senate 31-22, with only one Republican breaking ranks to vote against it. Northwest Georgia State Senator Colton Moore tried to justify his lone dissenting vote and joining Democrats by saying, 'We have far too many plea bargains in this state, and this will only increase the amount,' Moore said just after the Senate vote. 'Plea bargains allow the innocent to get improper justice and the guilty to get less than deserved. This is not the way to solve street gang crimes.'
His argument isn't just wrong; it's about as convincing as healthcare advice from Bill Gates.
Plea bargaining is essential for prosecutors, especially in cases where witness intimidation and fear are significant factors. Securing convictions without the cooperation of lower-level players in the gang hierarchy is often difficult in gang-related cases. By offering plea deals to these individuals, prosecutors can build cases against higher-level members and ultimately dismantle the gang. This was precisely the strategy used to bring the killers of Marsinah Johnson and Nekita Waller to justice.
Without plea bargains, it is doubtful that even half of the killers would have been put behind bars. The gang leader, in particular, would likely have walked free again at some point. There was little physical evidence linking him to the crimes, and only the testimony of three co-defendants made it possible to secure his conviction. This testimony was only possible because of plea bargaining.
His argument against plea bargaining is based on a false premise. Trials are not guaranteed to result in a guilty verdict, even in cases with overwhelming evidence. Plea bargains, on the other hand, allow prosecutors to secure convictions and ensure that defendants are held accountable for their actions. In gang-related cases with high stakes and risks, plea bargaining is necessary for achieving justice.
Governor Kemp, AG Carr, and the rest of the Republicans in the state senate deserve praise for putting children's and the public's safety first. The passing of Senate Bill 44 is a step in the right direction toward ending the scourge of gang violence that plagues our society. The bill still needs to pass the House before Governor Kemp can sign it.
According to the national gang center, if passed, Georgia would become the first state in the southeast to criminalize gang recruitment in this way. If enacted, Georgia will have the most potent framework in the nation to help prevent other children from meeting the same tragic fate as the young girls.
Colton Moore also voted against the following:
Senate Bill 12 - The Protecting Victims and Dismantling Street Gangs Act is another measure backed by Governor Kemp and Attorney General Carr. It passed by a vote of 44-8.
Senate Bill 42 - this bill strengthens human trafficking regulations in Georgia and was championed by Georgia First Lady Marty Kemp. The bill passed by a vote of 51-1.
It must be noted that Moore has a long history of voting against law enforcement and public safety. During his time in the House, Moore voted against the Police Protection Act. The chart below illustrates how important that act is. In 2021, there were 18 ambush attacks on law enforcement officers in Georgia.
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