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No. 550: Crime is a choice
Photo by Ari Spada / Unsplash

No. 550: Crime is a choice

📅 Today, Davis talks about his experience in El Salvador and Megan reviews the first day of the special session.

Good afternoon, everyone.

I spent the weekend in El Salvador, where I learned some things about public safety I think are relevant to this week's special session.

As recently as 2015, El Salvador had the highest homicide rates in the world (103 homicides per 100,000 people). That means that just over 1 percent of the Salvadoran population was culled each year by murder, almost entirely via gang violence. Today, the homicide rate sits around 18 homicides per 100,000 people which is lower than both Memphis and Nashville by more than half.

So, what happened in El Salvador, and what can Tennessee state legislators learn from it? In short, the Salvadoran government, led by President Nayib Bukele, arrested all the criminals, effectively removing them from society.

Bukele’s crackdown on violence began after 87 people were murdered over the weekend of March 25th, 2022—including 67 on Saturday alone, the most violent day in nearly three decades. I heard a local refer to it as the Weekend of Death.

To draw a comparison between El Salvador and the United States, Chicago experienced a similar wave of violence over Fourth of July weekend, leaving 20 people dead and 126 injured.

In response to the sudden eruption of violence in his country, Bukele, who had made combating gang violence the primary plank of his political platform, initiated a "state of emergency" overwhelmingly approved by the Salvadoran legislature. The order gave him temporary authority to round up suspected gang members and imprison them indefinitely.

As of July 25, 2023, nearly 72,000 people accused of having gang affiliations have been arrested. The efforts, criticized as a violation of human rights by all the expected detractors, have been overwhelmingly popular with Salvadoran residents.

Bukele has one of the highest approval ratings in the world: an April 2022 Gallup poll revealed that 91 percent of residents approve of his administration's actions in response to crime.

During my short trip, I heard from a variety of residents of different social strata about what a difference the eradication of gang violence has made. An Uber driver spoke approvingly of Bukele and about how he could "go anywhere now."

An affluent Frenchman who has maintained a vacation home in El Salvador for decades recalled how, prior to Bukele's crackdown, he'd have to ride in a caravan of bulletproof SUVs to eat at a nice dinner spot in town. That night, he’d just parked his car on the street out front.

Unsurprisingly, Tennessee’s "public safety" special session has mostly been refracted through the lens of the Covenant tragedy. Not to discount concerns parents have about the safety of their children at schools—concerns adequately addressed by funding SROs at these schools—but the state’s real public safety problems lie in Memphis.

I need not remind you of the horrific kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher while she was on a morning jog. Or, just a few days later, of the live-streamed murder spree of a 19-year-old man wantonly killing four innocent people. Right now, Memphis has a murder rate higher than El Salvador's.

A 2014 study on violent crime convictions in Sweden revealed that between 1973 and 2004, 1 percent of the population accounted for 63 percent of violent crime convictions. Interestingly enough, El Salvador's crackdown bears out these numbers: imprisoning just over 1 percent of the population resulted in the total collapse of violent crime in the country.

But, beyond the numbers, Nayib Bukele has instilled trust in his people, assurance that he will address their concerns. Now that the problem of violent crime has been wiped away, the country is free to focus on longer-term goals, such as improving the education and health of its residents.

A permissive attitude toward crime prevents progress on other fronts. In Memphis, crime is the number one concern of residents. In Nashville, crime is second behind education and ahead of affordable housing.

Neglecting concerns about rampant crime and crumbling schools has become something of a status symbol among the left. Writer Jacob Siegel describes this impulse well as “an avoidance tactic that feigns moral and intellectual superiority while exhibiting dullness and cowardice.”

Allowing crime to persist as it does is a choice (and do not let the gun control advocates tell you otherwise.) The solution is simple: lock up those committing the crimes. El Salvador shows us the way on this front. “Self-love, my liege, is not so vile a sin, as self-neglecting.”



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Yesterday afternoon, the House and Senate respectively held their first floor sessions, kicking off a week of discussions around public safety. Both bodies passed rules to be implemented for the duration of the week, along with every bill on first reading. (We should point out, however, that many of the bills filed didn’t fall within the language outlined by the governor’s proclamation; therefore they did not make it into the special session.) 

Though House committee meetings begin tomorrow, House subcommittee meetings will have started by the time you read this newsletter. Meanwhile, the Senate’s committee meetings began today at ten thirty and continue until the next floor session, which will be at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday.


Last night, the Senate gaveled in and gaveled out in record time, under 30 minutes. Bo Watson (R-Hixson) moved to adopt the rules for session, and Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) seconded that motion. As the body moved to pass all the filed legislation on first consideration, Yarbro made a point of order questioning the session’s restriction on legislation: “The governor does have the authority… to call a special session, to enunciate the purposes, but not to limit how this legislative body proceeds in passing legislation pursuant to those purposes,” he said, before critiquing Gov. Lee’s drafted call as insufficient.

Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) motioned to adjourn indefinitely, but it was done without a proper resolution. “When I consider the phrase ‘extraordinary occasion,’ it speaks to me that it is an emergency and something of an urgent nature," she said of the session. “People in my district have spoken loudly on this issue, and the overwhelming consensus is that we face no emergency or immediate danger.” Though she stated she’d renew her motion today with a proper resolution, she was unable to file one in time. 


The House, on the other hand, had a few disagreements over the proposed rules of order. Yesterday’s session adjourned after two hours, but not before Rep. Bryan Richey (R-Maryville) mirrored Bowling’s actions and moved to suspend the rules and adjourn for the remainder of session. Unlike the senator, Richey submitted HJR40, but the body voted against suspending the rules and his motion failed. 

Put together by a bipartisan ad hoc committee, the session’s rules packet includes new consequences both for interrupting business in committees or during floor sessions by any “material disruption” and for speech deemed out of order. Though a member who violates these rules will be unable to speak during floor or committee discussions, he or she will still be able to vote on legislation.

Also included are strictures prohibiting signs in the gallery, recording devices on the floor, and sound amplifying devices in both the gallery and on the floor. Despite some pushback, these rules were eventually adopted by the House after an hour of deliberation. It’s worth noting, though, that the rules are already being bent: this morning, protestors who appeared in the gallery with signs were allowed to stay. 


This morning, Justin Jones, who was stripped of his committees just before expulsion, was gaveled down for inquiring about his committee assignments– though, at the end of today’s session he was ultimately assigned to the agriculture subcommittee and the education and administration committee. The Speaker announced all of the assignments, but they are unlisted and only available in today’s live-streamed video.

You can find the updated schedule with live video coverage for the House here and the Senate here.


Nashville airport expansion plan comes weeks after new state board is granted eminent domain power (Lookout) Six weeks after the state took majority control of the Nashville Airport board under a newly enacted state law, BNA leaders announced they would start a multidecade process to build a second terminal.

Nashville mayoral candidate Freddie O'Connell, other Metro Council members, have COVID-19 (Tennessean) O'Connell is facing Alice Rolli in a runoff election, set for Sept. 14. A number of candidate forums had been scheduled, including ones on Tuesday and Thursday, though it's now unclear if O'Connell will be able to participate.


  • Developers propose hundreds of downtown Murfreesboro apartments (Tennessean)
  • 12South set for retailers Rag and Bone, Jenni Kayne (Post)
  • Manny’s to close in The Arcade (Post)
  • Downtown tower restaurant to open in 2024 (Post)


View our calendar for the week here and our weekly film rundown here.

📅 Visit our On The Radar list to find upcoming events around Nashville.

🎧 On Spotify: Pamphleteer's Picks, a playlist of our favorite bands in town this week.

👨🏻‍🌾 Check out our Nashville farmer's market guide and our 2023 southern festival guide and 🎥 2023 movie guide.


🎸 Monsterwatch with Spoon Benders @ The End, 8p, $12, Info

✨ Whitten @ The Underdog, 9:30, Free, Info
+ pedal steel instrumental

🎸 Kathy Mattea, Fred Carpenter & Friends @ Station Inn, 8p, $20, Info

🎸 Honky Tonk Tuesday @ American Legion Post 82, 5p, Free, Info‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌
+ two-step lessons @ 7p, The Cowpokes @ 8p

🎺 Todd Day Wait @ The Underdog, 11:30p, Free, Info‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌
+ Honky Tonk Tuesday afterparty, down the street

In case you missed it...

📰 Check out the full newsletter archive here.

No. 549: Day One
🗓 Today, Megan preps for day one of the special session, and Miles talks about Saturday’s Leagues Cup Final.
No. 548: Session Looms
🗓 Today, Jerod talks red flag laws, Megan talks to House Speaker Cameron Sexton, and we furnish our weekly film rundown.
No. 547: Coming Up at the State Capitol
🗓 Today, Davis sets the stage for Monday’s special session and Megan previews some more legislation on the docket.
No. 546: Curiously Uncurious
🗓 Today, Davis sets you up, former mayoral candidate Stephanie Johnson comes out in support of Alice Rolli with a passionate appeal, and Megan reviews last night’s Metro Council meeting.
No. 545: Up for deliberation
🗓 Today, Davis sets you up for the stream tomorrow, Jerod talks about the writer’s strike, and Megan previews tonight’s Metro Council meeting.


  • ⛳️ The vagueness of red flag laws brings up several red flags of its own (Read)
  • 🪧 What the new Transformers movie can tell us about the Hollywood strikes (Read)
  • 🧠 The rise of mental illness as a trendy identity marker in America's social media era (Read)
  • And check out our podcast, YouTube, and article archive for more.