Fulton County DA 180-degrees opposite of predecessor, going after street gangs in new legislation


FULTON COUNTY, GA- For residents of Atlanta, this might be a refreshing change from the former Fulton County district attorney.

Where Paul Howard was a soft-on-crime, George Soros backed “progressive” DA, Fani Willis appears to be the exact opposite. Just a year into her term as Fulton County’s top prosecutor, Willis has put a laser focus on the reason she believes crime in the city is out of control—gangs.

According to 11 Alive, Willis is making the arrest and prosecution of gang members a focus in order to get crime under control and hopefully put an end to the city’s rise in violent crime.

“I’m going to ask the next mayor to make it mandatory that evidence about gangs are taken, so that we can prosecute those crimes correctly and get the element off of our streets,” Willis told a mayoral forum last November.

“If we are able to combat gang violence, we are going to be able to see crime decrease dramatically.”

Those words from four months ago are now being turned into action, as Willis is pushing the state legislature in Georgia to act.

In addressing the crime problem in Georgia, Willis pulled no punches in laying the blame where she believes it belongs—gangs.

“Too much. Too much,” she said when asked how much of the state’s crime problem could be traced back to gangs. “More than we can even imagine because it’s all of the crimes that we don’t even know go back to the gangs.”

She added that according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, some 70 to 90 percent of the state’s crime can be traced back to gangs.

“It’s not just the violence. It’s everything from car break-ins to burglaries to human trafficking to shootings,” she said. “So, all spectrum of crime is being impacted by gang violence.”

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According to the Georgia Gang Investigators Association (GGIA), they believe there are currently some 70,000 active gang members in Georgia, with the FBI estimating about 50,000 in metropolitan Atlanta alone.

Georgia currently has one of the strictest anti-gang laws in the US, “Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act,” which carries special circumstances that allows police and prosecutors to add separate gang charges. Willis however says that tool is vastly underutilized.

“It’s absolutely not being used to the extent that it could,” she said. “I think you will see, at least in this county, that that is used more and more and we’re already seeing that.”

Willis drafted a private letter to Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, in which she wrote that “of the 28 homicide prosecutions currently under indictment in our gang unit, in only five cases did APD (Atlanta Police Department) seek a gang warrant at the outset.”

Willis was certain not to blame individual officers for failure to add the additional charges, instead calling it “systemic shortfalls” that need to be addressed. She’s hoping that by adding a new tool she is advocating from the legislature it will help to address the shortfalls.

“What we have been doing is not working, so it is time to do something,” Willis said. “We’re asking the legislators to make a move.”

Willis has suggested legislators insert specific language in a bill currently under review in the Georgia state legislature, the “Safe and Secure Georgia Act.”


Under the bill, prosecutors would be permitted to bring all charges against an alleged gang member in one county regardless of whether or not the crime occurred in Fulton County, DeKalb County or anywhere else in metro Atlanta. The bill would also allow prosecutors to introduce evidence of past gang crimes, which previously was not allowed.

“This will allow prosecutors to tell juries the entire story,” Willis said. “The criminals don’t care that they crossed over a block and then there’s one thing that they did that occurred in DeKalb and not in Gwinnett. So, it only makes common sense.”

The bill has already garnered a lot of support, already receiving 25 sponsors, all Republicans.

“It doesn’t make me feel bad at all,” she said of the partisan backing of the bill. “I wish people would really get away from all of this labeling that we do of each other,” she added.

“This is what I know: I can go to the richest community in my county and they don’t want to see crime. I can go to the poorest community in my county and they do not want to see crime.

“I can go to the county with the highest concentration of African American citizens and they don’t want to see crime.” She noted that no matter what part of the county she went to, “No one wants crime in their community.”

Willis still holds out hope that some Democrats will engage in bipartisanship and back the measure.

“I think that they will. But I am happy to work with anyone who wants to help me in this fight against gang violence and crime,” Willis said.

She bemoaned the fact that for a long time, some politicians have refused to admit that Atlanta has a gang problem.

“’Oh no, Atlanta doesn’t have gangs.’ Yes, we do,” Willis said, railing against critics. “What we know is that a gangbanger who commits a crime is six times more likely to commit a crime than any other defendant. We’ve got to stop this at the root, so I don’t know that it is common, but it’s necessary and it’s needed, and I’m certainly not the first prosecutor to do it.”

Willis credited former DeKalb District Attorney Gwen Keyes-Fleming for blazing the trail in moving against gangs, noting she had laid the groundwork for the bill.

The outlet reached out to Keyes-Fleming who said she was proud of Willis for pushing the anti-gang act forward.

“Improvements in public safety and the dispensation of justice in our courtrooms should not be partisan issues. This is why under my administration, as district attorney, we teamed with Republicans to make needed upgrades to Georgia’s anti-gang laws and move Georgia towards the adoption of the Federal Rules of Evidence,” Keyes-Fleming wrote in a statement.

“I am inspired to see that, for the most part, public interest has prevailed over party on this important bill.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has proposed placing a gang prosecution unit inside the attorney general’s office, a move supported by Willis, however she says that won’t be enough.

Willis has written every law enforcement agency in Fulton County asking them to bring cases under the anti-gang statute. It is, she said, time to do more than merely talk about it.

“It’s like you’re either progressive or you’re hard on crime. What I would say is the best practice is you’re both,” Willis said.

She said it’s important to maintain a balance, and said she believes she falls somewhere in the middle between being progressive or hard on crime.

“I don’t consider myself to be a tough-on-crime prosecutor or a progressive prosecutor. I consider myself to be both. If you commit a violent crime in Fulton County, Georgia, we are going to be extremely tough. And I don’t lose any sleep about it because I think you need to be removed from our community,” Willis said.

Willis hopes to work with the Fulton County Schools to discuss services the school department could put in place and ensure that guns are not being brought into schools.

“{Gangs are] stealing our youth from us. It’s taking our juveniles and our children and getting them into a life of crime,” she said.

Willis noted in her letter to Dickens that statistics show 400,000 children are recruited into gangs every year, noting that in Georgia in particular, juvenile gang members commit a significant level of crime.

“I agree the majority of crime occurs between people probably about 13 to 25 years old,” she said. “It is so much better if we try to snatch our children and put them into effective programming and positive things that they can do while being really tough on older gang members, so they never steal our children.”

One program Willis was hoping to get into the bill, which hasn’t thus far is state-funded gang prosecutors. If it doesn’t make it into the current bill, she’s hopeful it will make it into a subsequent measure.

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