Music videos tied to DC violence, but is it a fair tie?

An analysis of DC’s crime indicated that music videos were accelerating conflict between neighborhoods.

WASHINGTON — Lucille Leach sat on a bench in Washington DC’s Anacostia Park with a heavy heart. Weighed down by six years of questions.

“I don’t know who killed my son,” she sighed. “But whoever killed my son, he’s not living his life for good.”

A necklace hung around her neck with a picture of her son, Antonio Leach in a locket. A son she keeps close to her heart.

“I talk to him every morning and I go to see him every month,” she smiles.

What happened to Lucille’s son has become a story that lives online in a series of music videos and commentaries. Millions saw the last days of Antonio’s life unfold in an all-too-familiar DC story

Lucille does her best to explain what happened from her point of view. It was 2016 and Antonio got caught up in a war of words with someone Lucille wouldn’t name. A rival from another DC neighborhood that Antonio had a conflict with.

“My son didn’t even rap until this person released a song about my son,” Lucille said. “They called my son a snitch.”

That’s when the feud escalated. Lucille thinks Antonio felt pressure to respond to his rival’s music video. So Antonio made one.

Using the name OGMan Man, Antonio shot a music video called “Truth”. It was a shocking display of insults and threats towards his rivals. He even featured him performing near the grave of this rival’s friend.

“I told him, please don’t do it, but he had already done it,” Lucille said. “But when he did his, he was seen by millions of people.”

“After that video came out, I mean it was two weeks after they killed my son.”

Lucille said she got the call that Antonio had been called to a barbecue near his house. That’s when someone shot him. Six years later, there are no leads and no witnesses — just a cold case that left a DC mother empty.

“When that person killed my son, they took a part of me away from me,” she said, looking at her picture on her locket.

Sadly, Antonio Leach’s story isn’t uncommon in DC

“Violent crimes happen because of slights that are exchanged between groups or rap crews,” said Wayne Jacobs, special agent in charge of DC’s FBI field office.

Jacobs’ office tracks the violence of the DC neighborhood crew. The bureau works with DC police to curb it and solve violent crimes.

“It’s not necessarily about the music,” Jacobs said. “But these are the people who use music as a platform to talk about things they do, or issues or disputes they have with others.”

This theory is supported by a 2021 report from the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. The DC gun violence analysis found:

“Exacerbating the social media incited shootings are music videos that promote certain neighborhoods or cliques that ‘dis’ also have other teams or individuals, sparking a series of comments and competing videos that escalate into shootings. .”

We dug through DC homicide court records and found further evidence of the trend.

Specifically, we looked at three of DC’s high-profile child murders, 10-year-old Makiyah Wilson, 11-year-old Davon McNeal, and 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney. In each case’s evidence files were YouTube links to music videos showing some of the suspects threatening violence or disrespecting a rival neighborhood.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police Department declined to appear on camera, but acknowledged the phenomenon exists. Detectives are using the videos to show evidence of a rivalry that escalated into violence that, in these cases, cut the lives of innocent children.

This is the perspective of law enforcement.

In the music community, there’s a different take. The DC Young E Class hip-hop artist calls the connection between the videos and the violence absurd.

“These problems [have] since before rap,” he said. “Hip-hop is maybe 40 or 50 years old and these street situations happened long before that.”

E is no stranger to the streets of DC or neighborhood disputes. He served a prison sentence for a crime committed in his youth. Since coming out, he has been working on his music career and also trying to stop the violent cycle he was once caught in.

“Even if you just remove the music, there are still problems,” he explained. “It’s always this neighborhood that’s going to look like (expletive) this neighborhood. Like, it’s gonna happen. It’s just the latest way they taunt each other.

His point is that core neighborhood issues involving violence in DC need to be addressed before music videos.

“A young man, who has no stable home or nowhere to go?” E asked. “Oh my God. Can you imagine? It’s like… It’s pure survival.

Back at Anacostia Park, Lucille Leach reflects on her son’s latest accomplishments. He had just obtained a business license and a commercial driver’s license before he was killed.

“He was going to be a truck driver, he told me,” she sighed. “He wanted out of the way we lived.”

When asked if she thought the music videos caused or accelerated violence in DC, Lucille said no. She felt it was just a different way for neighborhoods to fight back against disputes that had been going on for decades.

For her, the main issues affecting DC’s violence are systemic and stem from poverty. For her, Antonio wasn’t caught up in violent music, he was caught up in the violent cycle of a neighborhood rivalry.

She has a message for parents.

“Talk to your kids and see where they’re going in life and try to help them get help,” she said. “Children, please stop. You could be next, and your mom had to bury you.

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