The Atlanta Objective: Gangs By The Numbers
Blaming a rise in violence on gang activity is usually political theater meant to target scary Black men. The RICO indictment of YFN Lucci may be different.
(NOTE: An editing error moved a transitional paragraph between Young Thug bailing out some friends and the start of description of the YFN case. Plainly, Thug didn’t bail out a bunch of YFN rappers. The corrected story follows.)
The indictment of Rayshawn Bennett — YFN Lucci — on racketeering charges begins to shed some light on things. (For those of you who would prefer not to spend $39 pulling the indictment, I’ll send it to paying subscribers. Just ask.)
But the indictment also identifies “Young Slime Life” — the record label of Young Thug and Gunna — as associated with the Rollin 60 Crips, and that the various Blood sets of Atlanta have a specific animosity with YSL. The leader of one Blood set, Donovan “Nut” Thomas, was murdered in a drive-by shooting in front of a Castleberry Hill barber shop in 2015. “That murder fed the hostility between Bird Gang and YSL due to the belief that YSL is responsible for the death of Thomas,” the RICO indictment states.
Strap in. It’s a story.
Last week I raised an eyebrow about the “charitable” acts of Young Thug and Gunna, two of America’s most successful rap artists today, who paid the bail of six people in Fulton County jail. Among them was Adam Byrd, an accused murderer who shouldn’t have been eligible for bond in the first place, who was quickly rearrested. The whole episode suggested that some other motivation may have been at play.
Young Thug and YSL have had a long running feud with rappers from the YFN clique in Atlanta, who are fronted by Rayshawn “YFN Lucci” Bennett.
Bennett stands accused of being part of a Bloods gang set enmeshed with his rap crew, and that this gang is responsible for violence and drug trafficking. The 105-count indictment is a parade of shootings, car jackings, cell phone snatching and gun crimes, with some cocaine and marijuana sprinkled on top. Twelve defendants are named, with Justin “Bloody Jay” Ushery at the top. One man is accused of dealing weed out of the West Inman Lofts from a “gang stronghold” there.
Prosecutors accuse four of the men — Reginald “Lil Blood” Carter, Demonte “B Gang” Thomas, Artez “Tez” Carter and Tiedrekis “Ty” Glass — of a drive-by shooting in May 2020, shooting Wayne Alford with a stolen AK-47 from a stolen Jeep Cherokee. Alford, characterized in the indictment as a Rolling 60 Crip, apparently slapped Byron “Scooby” Smith, a Blood gang member, which precipitated the retaliatory attack.
The next day, Malik “Leek” Stanley, sitting in the Fulton County Jail, talked about the drive-by with another accused gang member, Markius “Shrek” Henry, the indictment states. Along with open discussion about how to acquire weapons, Stanley apparently talked about the ongoing beef with YSL. Later phone calls suggest that jailed members of the alleged gang suspected Shrek Henry of being a snitch.
Prosecutors say Lucci strangled a man, Carl Benyard, on August 1 last year for playing rival gang music, “as well as encouraging the striking and kicking” of the man by other gang members. Nine days later, Lucci tried to buy him out of testifying, the indictment states.
The next month, Glass and three different alleged gang members appeared in a music video posted to Instagram. The video was “filmed in front of the YFN studio, wearing YFN apparel and jewelry, displaying Blood hand signs, demonstrating and exhibiting firearms with extended magazines and rifles, while rapping lyrics about “no love General” who is fellow member of the enterprise currently incarcerated for the shooting of Martinez Arnold, member of the rival gang Young Slime Life or YSL,” the indictment states.
The YFN music studio at 340 West Peachtree Street is in the heart of downtown Atlanta, across from Hardy Ivy Park. Prosecutors call this a “central point for the group and notorious stronghold. The studio received a drive-by shooting in October, leading one of the indicted men, Victor “Bop” Meadows, to grab a rifle and post up outside.
In jailhouse phone calls, the accused talked about being “at war” and threatening potential snitches among the crew, according to the indictment. “Someone going to cook your ass when you get out!” Leek Stanley told Tenquarius “Nard” Mender, who also faces RICO charges in the indictment.
Separately, Bennett faces a murder charge in connection with the Dec. 10 death of 28-year-old James Adams. Prosecutors say Adams was killed by return fire while doing a drive-by shooting, and that Bennett was driving. Bennett is out on bond, but prosecutors have asked for that bond to be revoked after Bennett went to a strip club and a music studio in violation of its terms.
Now, I think some elements of the indictment are … problematic.
The indictment cites the production of a music video, “All My Niggas Bang Hard as Fuck,” and “Shine On” which “includes lyrics promoting criminal gang activity, prominently features fellow Blood gang associates, and displays common gang identifiers including language, clothing, and colors, which constitutes overt acts that demonstrate participation in and association with the enterprise.”
The first song, in which Justin “Bloody Jay” Ushery likens himself to Hitler, is deeply offensive, but set that aside.
I understand why this would be included in the indictment, as context to a broader pattern of conduct. But convincing an Atlanta jury that gangsta rap lyrics are actually gangster propaganda, a promotion of criminal enterprise, is going to be a tough sell both culturally and on First Amendment grounds.
That said, the indictment begins to paint a picture of what has been happening in Atlanta over the last year with the increase in violence.
At least six rappers were murdered in Atlanta last year, out of 157 homicides. Is it possible that four percent of young Black men in the city of Atlanta have a record deal or significant studio work? Maybe. I can’t rule it out. But it seems statistically implausible.
I’m skeptical of big, broad declarations about gang activity in Atlanta. Governor Brian Kemp, posturing, made the ludicrous claim last year that Georgia had 71,000 gang members and that 50,000 of them lived in metro Atlanta. The figure suggests that one in 20 young men here are active gang members … which is just stupid.
But. The indictment suggests that some amount of the violence, ticking at the edges, might be attributable to music industry rivalries mixed together with gang rivalries. And I’m unwilling to dismiss that out of hand.