Public Enemies: Social Media Is Fueling Gang Wars in Chicago
Take gangs out of gun violence and suddenly the stats would look very different. If we can restrict firearms from the convicted violent offender, why not FB & Twitter? Food for thought.
Just about any teenager in Chicago today can tell you the story of Chief Keef and Lil JoJo, two rappers from the South Side neighborhood of Englewood whose songs serve as anthems for their rival gangs. Keef, an 18-year-old whose real name is Keith Cozart, is the most successful of the city’s emerging “drill” sound rappers (named after a slang term for shooting someone). Last year, while under house arrest for aiming a gun at a police officer, Cozart uploaded some videos to YouTube that eventually landed him an estimated $6 million deal with Interscope Records. The title of one of his early hits, “3hunna,” is a nickname for the Black Disciples gang, and in the song he maligns the Tooka gang, a crew affiliated with the enemy Gangster Disciples. “Fucka Tooka gang, bitch, I’m 3hunna,” he chants. Last spring, Joseph Coleman, then a baby-faced 18-year-old calling himself Lil JoJo, responded to Chief Keef’s musical provocations with his own uploaded song that included the hook “Niggas claim 300 but we BDK,” that is, Black Disciples Killers. In his “3HUNNAK,” Coleman also threatened to shoot a member of Chief Keef’s clique, and the video—which quickly captured close to a million views on YouTube—consists mostly of a throng of guys jostling into the frame, pointing an arsenal of firearms at the camera. This touched off an online war between the two rappers that lasted for weeks, and young Chicagoans followed in real time as it escalated.
On September 4, 2012, Lil JoJo drove down Black Disciples’ block, a few streets from his own. He posted video footage to his Twitter account in which he shouts profanities at someone he passes who clearly shouts back, “I’ma kill you.” That same afternoon, amid a flurry of broadside taunts fired off on social media by each side, Coleman tweeted, “lmao im on 069 Stop The Fuckin flexin.” A little while later, while riding on the back pegs of a friend’s bicycle, JoJo was shot and killed on the 6900 block of South Princeton Avenue. Soon thereafter, a pair of comments appeared on Chief Keef’s Twitter account:
Keef, who has a mop top of noodling dreadlocks that hang past his eyes shaggy-dog style, said he didn’t write the derisive tweets about JoJo’s murder, claiming his account had been hacked. In an unrelated matter, he ended up serving a short stint in juvenile detention for violating his parole—he was filmed handling a rifle in an online video commissioned by pitchfork.com. But he continues to Instagram images of himself with guns and drugs, sharing the pictures with his 750,000 Twitter followers, and upon his release from juvie he promptly tweeted, “Fucka TOOKA gang!!! BITCH IM 3Hunna.”
Coleman’s murder sparked a round of back-and-forth retaliation killings—a 26-year-old parolee who appeared in a video mocking JoJo’s death, an 18-year-old in a JoJo sweatshirt on Christmas Day. #BDK and #GDK (Gangster Disciples Killers) became trending terms on Twitter, showing up in thousands of tweets. At Coleman’s funeral, posted to YouTube, hundreds of youths sang in unison the chorus to his online hit: They “claim 300 but we BDK.” The Chicago police fielded calls from departments in four different states, where officers were struggling to understand why people in their jurisdictions were declaring themselves to be warring branches of the Disciples and fighting over some kids from Chicago’s South Side. Even a full year later, the two rappers are cited in countless videos, comments, and posts as shorthand for disrespect or a call to arms.