Data obtained by AP show social media has altered gang life


Associated Press

CHICAGO

Lamanta Reese lived much of his gang life in virtual reality, posting videos on YouTube of him and others taunting rivals. He died at 19 in the real world, bleeding from his head onto a porch on Chicago’s South Side after one of those gang rivals, prosecutors say, shot him 11 times. Another possible factor in his slaying: A smiley-face emoji Reese posted that the suspected gunman may have interpreted as a slight about his mom.

Gangs’ embrace of social media to goad foes or conceal drug dealing in emoji-laden text is the biggest change in how gangs operate compared with 10 years ago, according to new law-enforcement data provided exclusively to The Associated Press ahead of its release today by the Chicago Crime Commission. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other sites have radically altered gang culture in Chicago. They are having a similar influence on gangs nationwide.

These days, there is nearly always a link between an outbreak of gang violence and something online, said Rodney Phillips, a gang-conflict mediator working in the low-income Englewood neighborhood where Reese lived and died. When he learns simmering tensions have spilled into violence, he no longer goes first to the streets.

“I Google it,” Phillips said. “I look on YouTube and Facebook. Today, that’s how you follow the trail of a conflict.”

Asked what led to his son’s death, Reese’s father, William Reese, answered promptly: “Something on the internet.” He said his son and Quinton “ManMan” Gates, later charged with first-degree murder in the killing, had been trading barbs on Facebook.

Updated gang maps also being released in a Chicago Crime Commission Gang Book chart the turf of 59 gangs, from Reese’s Black Disciples to the lesser-known Krazy Get Down Boys. They illustrate how gangs have splintered into smaller, less disciplined factions quicker to resort to violence. The last Gang Book – used as a guide by regional police – was published in 2012.

Gangs put a premium on retaliation for perceived disrespect. In the past, insults rarely spread beyond the block. Now, they’re broadcast via social media to thousands in an instant.

“If you’re disrespected on that level, you feel you have to act,” said Phillips, employed with Target Area, a nonprofit group that seeks to defuse gang conflicts.

Reese, nicknamed Taedoe, was prolific on Twitter, posting 28,000 tweets under the handle @taedoeDaShoota. He displayed bravado but was also introspective, tweeting about his odds of dying a violent death. One of his last tweets read: “Death Gotta Be Easy Because Life is Hard.” It included a sad-face emoji.

Police say there was a gang connection to most of the 650 homicides in Chicago recorded in 2017 – more than in Los Angeles and New York City combined. Homicides so far in 2018 are down about 20 percent. Police partly credit better intelligence and the deployment of officers to neighborhoods on the anniversaries of gang killings.

Some gangs provoke enemy gangs by streaming live video showing them walking through rival turf. Others face off using a split-screen function on Facebook Live and hurl abuse at each other.

Chicago gangs maximize attention with videos of themselves performing an aggressive hip-hop called drill rap. Reese was among his gang’s rappers. In a video posted before he died, he and his gang brandish guns, flash gang signs and curse, singing, “They want war? We’re gonna give ‘em war.”

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