The NYPD began compiling a database of every individual they believed to be involved in gang activity in 2001. Of note is the fact that the database is not regulated, and criteria for inclusion are subjective. And those who are placed on the list are not given notification or allowed to defend themselves.
According to the 2018 testimony of Chief of Detectives Dermot Shea, the database is 99% non-White and has contained over 42,000 names. The Intercept news organization said the database has grown over 70% under Mayor Bill De Blasio since January 2014.
Ex-police Commissioner Ray Kelly doubled the NYPD’s gang unit to 300 police and then launched Operation Crew Cut in 2012, which became the model procedure of surveilling and arresting those involved in gang conspiracies. He said his model was not built around “narcotics trafficking or some other entrepreneurial interest, but simply on local turf.”
Many of the people targeted are rappers and their associated crews. Derrick Parker, a former NYPD detective who was in charge of the hip-hop police, said: “The NYPD sees rap groups as gangs committing crimes, and they see the rapper as someone who has money and public influence.”
But CUNY School of Law professor Babe Howell said that gang-related crime only accounted for about 0.1% of all crime committed in New York between 2013 and 2017.
The 2016 sweep of the Bronx’s Eastchester Gardens housing project netted 120 people. A report on the incident published in 2019 said more than half of those arrested were not even gang members, two-thirds of those convicted were not for violent crimes, and only 22 of the 90 arrested for firearms charges were convicted. Public defender Maryanne Kaishian said this is a common theme for rappers making a video shoots. “The police will arrive, declare the group an unlawful assembly, and immediately start snatching people off the street,” she said. “They search them, and charge them with various crimes, sometimes things as simple as disorderly conduct simply for filming their music videos. You understand the police have a job to do. But at the same time, it’s kind of a war on kids, man.”
Sheff G (born Michael Williams) grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He first crashed the rap scene with his 2017 hit, No Suburban. He went from homelessness and proximity to all the violence on the streets to becoming the bread winner for his family and buying his own home at age 21. “Rap changed our life, our family’s life, and generations to come,” he said. “[Now] you don’t gotta be around certain things no more.”
Sheff G released The Unluccy Luccy Kid in 2019. Its lyrics speak about the violence he grew up around and his triumph over it. But the hip-hop police still harass him and block his attempts at plying his trade. Sheff G has not been allowed to perform live in his hometown since 2017. He has been blocked because the hip-hop police are concerned of the higher risk of violence his performance will bring. Live performances are a rapper’s opportunity to personally interact with their fan base. It is necessary if a rapper wants to stay relevant and profitable.
Sheff G is not the only such rapper currently targeted by the hip-hop police. Pop Smoke (now deceased) was never allowed a live performance in his hometown of Brooklyn. Bobby Shmurda and Rowdy Rebel were arrested in a 2014 indictment that targeted 14 alleged GS9 members.
Sleepy Hallow and Fresh G were shut down with Sheff G at their video shoot for Panic Pt. 3.
Activists in June 2020 called for a $1 billion cut in the NYPD budget. “Every dollar spent on policing is a dollar that isn’t spent on housing,” said Kaishian, as quoted by Vice. “It’s a dollar that’s not spent on education. It’s a dollar that’s not spent on alternatives to policing such as organizations. At the expense of everything that could help and heal its communities, we are instead placing all of our resources on policing, which only exacerbates the pain and suffering.”
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