The Instagram hit lists surfaced after a drive-by shooting in Detroit in July 2014.
The first list, created by rivals of the Seven Mile Bloods street gang, targeted 10 of the Bloods’ members, seeking payback for the drive-by shooting, according to federal court documents. The second, created by the Seven Mile Bloods in retaliation, put hits on 62 enemies of the gang, releasing their names and faces on an Instagram account called “ooo_big_blood.”
Ten months after the first Instagram hit lists appeared, prosecutors said, the shooting wars began.
In just 10 days in May 2015, two men were killed, a father of two was left paralyzed and five others were critically wounded in the ambush-style shootings across Detroit’s east side. In one shooting, members of the Seven Mile Bloods allegedly shot up a Pontiac full of rival gang members and fatally struck one man in the head — then posted his picture on Instagram.
The caption included emoji crying of laughter.
“He thought he was [laughing emoji],” the message said. “[G]ot em.”
The social media posts appear to have played a crucial role for federal prosecutors, who used them as evidence to help secure racketeering, murder and attempted murder convictions against four alleged members of Seven Mile Bloods on Monday.
As part of the years-long investigation, prosecutors charged 21 alleged Seven Mile Bloods members under racketeering statutes passed in the 1970s to target the Mafia — but they drew significantly on evidence befitting of the digital age. They cited the “Instagram hit list,” strings of boastful Facebook messages, text messages and even rap videos uploaded to YouTube to make the case that the defendants were part of a criminal enterprise dealing drugs as far as Charleston, W.Va. Its social-media-fueled “gang war” led to “an increase in murders and shootings” on the east side of Detroit, Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski said in a statement.
The gang was “posting pictures on Instagram of people on the hit list, you know, shoot and kill on site,” former U.S. attorney Barbara McQuade told WDIV Detroit last year, which, she added, “makes good evidence for us.”
The phenomenon, at least in scholarly circles, has a name: It’s called “cyber banging.”
Criminal justice researchers have only just started to document it in recent years, seeking to understand how the rise of social media has amplified gang activity. Part of that understanding is figuring out how online bravado and bullying, taunting and boasting, has translated to violence in real life.
In June, the nonprofit organization Chicago Crime Commission released a 400-page book focusing in part on the evolution of gangs since the 1970s and how “cyber banging” fits in today, as The Washington Post reported at the time. “The Gang Book,” as it’s called, gathered data from more than 100 suburban police departments in the Chicago area. The authors described “cyber banging” as “insulting their opposition, praising their gang and fallen members, and selling illicit drugs. The use of social media and the instant accessibility for gangs to insult their rivals is believed by law enforcement to be a main catalyst for violence plaguing Chicago’s South and West Sides.”
Police in the west-side suburb of Cicero, for example, reported that 70 percent of its gang conflicts stemmed from social media exchanges, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“You don’t have to call someone out anymore. You don’t even have to send a text message. It’s all on Facebook Live,” Andrew Henning, general counsel at the nonprofit Chicago Crime Commission, told The Post’s William Wan in June. “Social media has become this rapid vehicle for violence, and there are real consequences to it, lives being taken because of that.”
One example of this was Lamanta Reese. As the Associated Press reported, the 19-year-old Chicago native posted about gang life prolifically on the Internet, tweeting under the name @taedoeDaShoota and taunting rivals in videos on YouTube and messages on Facebook until a gang rival fatally shot him 11 times on a back porch on Chicago’s South Side. He had apparently mistaking a smiley face emoji Facebook comment as an insult directed at his mom, the AP reported.
After a 10-week trial in the Seven Miles Bloods case, the jury took seven days before coming to its decision to convict four defendants on racketeering charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Other alleged gang members charged in the conspiracy have yet to stand trial. Other charges have resulted in mistrial, according to the Detroit News.
Corey Bailey, 30, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, three counts of attempted murder and murder in aid of racketeering, for his role in the drive-by shooting that started the Instagram hit lists. Keithon Porter, 32, was convicted of racketeering, attempted murder and murder in aid of racketeering, for his role in the fatal shooting later bragged about on Instagram. Robert Brown, 36, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and attempted murder but acquitted of a 2006 murder. And Arlandis Shy, 29, was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime. He was acquitted of murder and attempted murder.
Their attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment. Defense attorneys have previously pushed back on federal prosecutors descriptions of the gang as an “organized” criminal enterprise, saying prosecutors inflated the evidence, some of which they argued was improperly collected, the Detroit News reported.