Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri Delivers Remarks at Memphis Violent Crime Initiative Announcement
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Good afternoon and thank you, U.S. Attorney Ritz.
My name is Nicole Argentieri, and I am the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice. I am honored to be here in Memphis with you today. Memphis is a unique and vibrant city. It has a deep and powerful history, including its central role in the Civil Rights movement. It also has a rich culture, from world-class barbecue to its renowned status as “Home of the Blues” and so many other genres of music. I have enjoyed getting to know the city even better and I am grateful to have received such a warm welcome from your community.
But the reason I am here today is that violent crime in Memphis is on the rise. In fact, this year, it reached a 17-year high.
Violent crime hurts us all. Murder, assault, robbery, gun crimes – their impact goes beyond the physical and emotional harms suffered by victims and by their friends and families. It also impacts our schools, our churches, our neighborhood businesses. That’s because violent crime deprives our communities of a fundamental sense of security in our own homes and neighborhoods. And that is why we are in Memphis: to help this community face the challenges presented by the rise in violence.
I am so proud to announce that the Criminal Division, in partnership with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee and our law enforcement partners, is expanding our Violent Crime Initiative to fight violent crime in Memphis. Together, we will surge the tools and resources we use to investigate and prosecute violent crime nationally, and apply those tools to gangs who are harming communities here in Memphis.
The Violent Crime Initiative, or VCI, is a comprehensive approach to address violent crime in communities through both data-driven prosecutions and community engagement.
Let me explain how and why the VCI works. First, we are surging resources and expertise to Memphis in a collaborative enforcement model. Seven prosecutors from the Criminal Division, including senior members of the division’s Violent Crime and Racketeering Section, our nation’s foremost experts in racketeering or RICO prosecutions, will work alongside prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee, as well as dedicated investigative agents, analysts, and forensic experts from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Memphis Police Department. Together, this strong team of trained investigators will take on the worst of the worst offenders driving the violence in this beautiful city. That brings me to the second part of the VCI model.
Our enforcement work will be guided by data, which will allow us to identify the worst of the worst offenders – to investigate the criminal organizations responsible for the increase in violence.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly, the VCI prioritizes community engagement. While enforcement is an important tool, prosecution is just one tool in our toolbox. We in the Criminal Division want to work directly with you in this community to address the root causes of crime. We want to sit down with you, to hear your perspective on what the problems are and how we can act together to reduce violence.
As part of that process, we have and will engage with community-based organizations that focus on violence prevention, intervention, and reentry programs. As you may know, my colleagues in the Department of Justice, through the Office of Justice Programs, the Community Oriented Policing Services, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance support local communities like Memphis by providing grants, criminal justice policy development, and training and technical assistance. We will also work with the department’s Office for Access to Justice to ensure that all members of the Memphis community can have full access to and engage with the justice system, as is their right. And we will work with the district’s innovative Reentry Court Program to assist offenders in reentering and reintegrating into their communities. We know that we cannot arrest our way out of this problem.
Memphis is the second city to host the Criminal Division’s Violent Crime Initiative. In September of 2022, we established the VCI in Houston, Texas, focusing on specific neighborhoods where data showed that gang-related violence was impacting the community.
In its first year, the Houston VCI made great strides. To date, we have prosecuted over 50 members and associates of violent gangs to hold accountable those who seek to harm and disrupt their communities. But that’s not all we have done in Houston. We have engaged, and will continue to engage, leaders and members of the community, to bear witness to the terrible impact of violent crime, and to hear directly from community members about their ideas on how we should all collectively tackle the problem. This is essential to building trust within the community, and we will do the same thing here in Memphis.
I know this is a critical time for the City of Memphis and the people who make up this incredible community. Not only is violent crime on the rise, but people’s faith and trust in those tasked with protecting them has been challenged, especially in light of the tragic killing of Tyre Nichols. I know that the department’s Civil Rights Division is working hard here to make assessments of the law enforcement landscape in Memphis as part of its civil “pattern or practice” investigation. We are choosing to be here in this community, at this time, because we care deeply about the safety and well-being of the people who live here and we believe we can help make a difference.
I want to thank everyone behind the podium with me this afternoon, and the dedicated public servants they represent, for joining with me to meet this challenge. And I want to thank the members of the community that met with us yesterday and all those we will meet as part of our work. We will meet this challenge together and make this community safer for its residents. Thank you.
Updated November 28, 2023