Editor's note: Detroit News reporter Robert Snell spent more than a year investigating Detroit’s gang wars and the Justice Department’s attempts to topple the Seven Mile Bloods. See the complete "Death by Instagram" series here.
Seven Mile Bloods trial defendant Quincy Graham bobbed his head to the beat as the YouTube rap track’s bass line, f-bombs and n-words filled a federal courtroom in Detroit recently.
One female juror sat transfixed, a water bottle perched to her lips, as the video showed strippers grinding and Seven Mile Bloods members throwing cash in the air.
The videos are an essential piece of evidence chronicling the gang’s organized crimes, including homicides, drug dealing and violence on the east side of Detroit, federal prosecutors said in a court filing.
The government won the right to show the rap videos to jurors despite defense objections that the music and videos are protected speech and fictional.
“Let’s face it. These guys were born poor. They were born black and they want to figure some way to get out of this situation,” Graham’s lawyer Michael Rataj told jurors. “Everybody wants to be famous. Rap music is a way that people do that, and that’s how (the government) wants to prove a (racketeering) case with rap videos. Unbelievable.”
Jurors saw several videos during the first wave of trials in the Seven Mile Bloods case that ended in early March.
Here is a summary of some videos that factor into the racketeering conspiracy case:
Rap track: 'Murda'
Devon McClure rapping about a mourning mother. (Video: YouTube)
The video features several accused members of the Seven Mile Bloods, including Corey Bailey, Billy Arnold and the late Devon McClure, who was killed in a drive-by shooting May 1, 2015. The video is relevant because Seven Mile Bloods members rap about dealing drugs and using violence and murder to intimidate witnesses and enemies, prosecutors say.
“The entire song is a threat to rival gangs and ‘snitches,’” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Graveline wrote in a court filing.
In one verse, McClure raps about a funeral and a grieving mother.
“Your family gonna miss you, your mom front row with that tissue, screaming ‘why they do my baby like that, my baby like that?’” McClure raps.
After a shooting on Mother’s Day 2015, Billy Arnold texted several Seven Mile Bloods members and told them to post the verse on a rival gang’s social media page, prosecutors allege.
“Arnold wanted to let his rivals know why their car was shot up and who shot at them,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Rajesh Prasad said.
Accused Seven Mile Bloods member Corey Bailey rapping about snitches in the "Murda" video. (Video: YouTube)
Corey Bailey raps about snitches on the “Murda” track.
“We don’t get down to snitchin,’ don’t need no murda witness,” Bailey raps.
Rap track: 'I Hustle'
Donell Hendrix rapping about drugs. (Video: YouTube)
Co-defendant Donell Hendrix, aka “HardWork Jig," 33, who is charged with racketeering conspiracy and a gun crime, raps about selling heroin and eight-balls of cocaine and how he is such a big drug dealer that “the feds be on me.”
Defendant Billy Arnold makes a cameo later in the video with what appears to be a firearm tucked into his waistband, prosecutors say.
Rap track: 'OG'
Corey Bailey rapping about beating a murder charge. (Video: YouTube)
The video features defendant Corey Bailey wearing the gang’s signature red colors and holding a wad of cash.
He raps about weapons and how he beat a first-degree murder charge in 2010.
“I beat a murder. Ain’t nobody seen it but they all heard it,” Bailey raps. “Not guilty was the damn verdict. I kept silent. It was well worth it.”
Though Bailey “beat a murder” in state court, the homicide is part of the Seven Mile Bloods case in federal court.
Rap track: 'I'm Working'
Donell Hendrix rapping in the "I'm Working" video. (Video: YouTube)
Donell Hendrix raps about the gang selling drugs and using violence to protect the enterprise, prosecutors say.
“Organized crime in my hood’ll get you paid,” Hendrix raps. “So breaking any rule in my hood’ll get you sprayed.”
The video was shot on location within the gang’s turf at the intersection of Rex Avenue and Novara Street.
Prosecutors also want jurors to see the “I’m Working” video because it depicts how members stash drugs at abandoned homes, known as “trap houses.”
Defense lawyers have challenged the significance of the rap videos and lyrics. The videos and songs are an artistic expression subject to heightened First Amendment protections, the lawyers argued.
Johnny Cash sang about shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die, Rataj argued.
That doesn’t mean Cash should have been indicted, the lawyer argued.
“I really find the use of rap videos to gain convictions against African American males abhorrent.” Rataj said.