Drug War

Why Not Blame Gun and Drug Laws for Rapper Bobby Shmurda's Legal Troubles?

Because throwing shade at capitalism is easier.

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Over at Complex, David Drake writes about the controversy surrounding rapper Bobby Shmurda. Shmurda was arrested by police in New York City last December on gun- and drug-related charges stemming from a two-year long investigation and is being held on $2 million bail. Epic Records signed Shmurda in July and released his single "Hot Nigga," which peaked at number six on Billboard's Hot 100 and had an associated dance that went viral.

After his arrest, some people on social media, as people on social media are wont to do, declared that paying Shmurda's bail is something his record label Ought To Do. Drake writes it off as "a bout of social media self-righteousness,"—but doesn't rule out the possibility it could pressure the label company to act—and also identifies Epic Records as a "scapegoat" for America's "collective guilt over the rapper's tragic situation—a situation that is replicated day-to-day across America, with or without hit records." Via Complex:

The "left" would argue that Shmurda was a product of circumstance, an innocent young man who is a victim of broader social ills—as if, if we solved the problems of poverty and racism, this lifestyle would have no pull. The "right" argues that the "left"'s reading denies Shmurda agency; that he made his choices, and now must pay the cost. If those choices happen to include gun crimes, he must be crazy, a monster—so much the better that he's locked up.

Both sides see Shmurda's behavior as pathological: the "left" as a result of circumstance, the "right" as a conscious decision. Either way, the end result is dehumanizing. Shmurda is not a victim of circumstance working in a broken system, nor is he crazy. Quite the opposite: Bobby Shmurda is a rational actor within a system working exactly as it's supposed to. Pathologizing Bobby Shmurda, as we pathologize everyone shoveled directly through the school-to-prison pipeline, is our own moral justification for imprisoning so many young people: a release valve, a logical shortcut to rationalize having denied him and so many others the same opportunities we've received.

From there it moves on to a vaguely anti-capitalist rant about poverty not being solvable "in the current system" (free markets, in fact, are the best antidote to poverty). What do you expect? It's a music magazine. But Drake did hit on an important point: Shmurda is indeed something of "a rational actor." And the "right" is right, he has made a "conscious decision." Drake identifies the charges against Shmurda only by quoting The New York Times:  "gang conspiracy and gun charges." But the charges are crucial to the conversation.

What were they? Shmurda was charged with conspiracy (four counts), criminal possession of a weapon, criminally using drug paraphernalia, and reckless endangerment. With the exception of the last one, none of these charges have at their core any kind of violent or non-consensual behavior*. The conspiracy charges related to the sale of drugs—providing a product people want at a price they're willing to pay, and arranging for security in the absence of legal protections—while in New York City the "reckless endangerment" could just mean carrying an illegal gun on your person. Possession of a firearm, technically, is a constitutionally protected right. But not in New York City. And that's thanks not to the capitalist "system" but the democratic one—New York City's elected leaders made the conscious decision to criminalize possession of an inanimate object, just as elected leaders at all levels of government help keep drugs illegal.

As more and more jurisdictions relax the prohibition on marijuana, it's important to keep in mind not just that other drugs remain illegal but that elected leaders around the country still tend to have the urge to demand the criminalization of more inherently non-violent behavior, from gun ownership to sex work. The problem of politicians attempting to exert control over our behavior by threatening our freedoms is a much easier problem to "fix" than poverty, in pretty much any system.

*Correction: Two of the counts accused Shmurda, and 11 others, of conspiring to commit murder and assault, although Shmurda was not among those charged with attempted murder or assault.

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  1. From there it moves on to a vaguely anti-capitalist rant about poverty not being solvable “in the current system” (free markets, in fact, are the best antidote to poverty).

    But that’s correct. Our current system isn’t “free market.” Otherwise, Reason writers would have nothing to do all day.

    1. It’s a spectrum. A continuum, even, if you will.

  2. Ed writes: “The conspiracy charges related to the sale of drugs?providing a product people want at a price they’re willing to pay, and arranging for security in the absence of legal protections.”

    Am I missing something? Schmurda and the rest of his alleged gang are accused of conspiring to murder rival drug dealers, some of whom were in fact murdered, right? It’s awfully anodyne to describe killings over drug territory (if true) as “arranging for security in the absense of legal protections.”

    I agree that if crack were legal, these particular alleged crimes wouldn’t have occured, but we might as well describe them accurately.

    1. He wasn’t charged with attempted murder or assault, others were. His conspiracy charges were drug-related.

      1. Thanks – JM

      2. Ed, isn’t this the Schmurda indictment? Because it charges Schmurda with conspiring to murder rival gang members.

        http://massappeal.wpengine.net…..dacted.pdf

        1. Thanks for this.

        2. Thank you J Mann for the indictment. Still I think Reason’s argument that there wouldn’t be any of this violence if drugs were legal, makes sense. There wouldn’t be any incentive/profit in selling drugs on the street if one can buy them at the store, just like with alcohol. And rather than having to defend oneself against rival gangs selling drugs (or attacking rivals to maintain/grow one’s selling territory and sales) the police would be doing it.

  3. Epic Records signed Shmurda in July and released his single “Hot Nigga,” which peaked at number six on Billboard‘s Hot 100 and had an associated dance that went viral.

    If you’re going to print the n-word, I think one of Reason‘s black contributors should be writing this story.

  4. Bobby Shmurda is a rational actor within a system working exactly as it’s supposed to.

    We are all Bobby Shmurda.

    This is one thing that bothers me about Libertarians – they fail to accept the fact that the world is a libertarian place. We are free to choose what sort of world we want and so is everyone else, and this is the world we wound up with. If you don’t like it you can attempt to change it but you must accept that the world didn’t wind up this way by accident, it wound up this way because this is the way people want it.

    Oh, sure, you can argue that Hitler wasn’t what the Germans intended when they elected him and neither was George Bush or Barack Obama – but “but I didn’t mean to!” only seems logical to 4-year olds. Good intentions don’t mean shit, or shouldn’t at any rate, to intelligent, mature adults. You’ve got all of history to teach you what happens when you give anybody the power to effect their ‘good intentions’.

    1. Two economists are walking down the street and stop to admire a new Rolls Royce they see. The first says “Boy, I sure would like to have one of those.” The second looks him up and down and says “Obviously not.”

      The point is that you can have a Rolls Royce, but you gotta pay for it since those are the real world Rolls Royces – ones you have to pay for. The free ones that magically just show up in your driveway are the ones you want – but those don’t exist in the real world. Saying you want a different world you don’t have to work for, fight for, possibly kill and die for, is saying you want a magic wand to wave – and those don’t exist.

      Another example: You ask Bill if he saw the big game last night and he says no, he had to take the wife out to dinner even though he really wanted to watch the big game. Bill wanted to watch the big game without his wife bitching at him about how he never takes her out to dinner, but that was not one of his choices. He could watch the game and listen to his wife bitch or he could take his wife out and miss the game. He made his choice, it’s what he wanted given the real world choices he had available to him.

      The world we have is the world we want – if that were not so we would have a different world.

    2. If you don’t like it you can attempt to change it but you must accept that the world didn’t wind up this way by accident, it wound up this way because this is the way people want it.

      Libertarians deny this? Not any I’ve ever met.

      1. I will, however, deny that a world that operates based on regular violation of the NAP is in any sense a “libertarian world”.

    3. “This is one thing that bothers me about Libertarians – they fail to accept the fact that the world is a libertarian place. We are free to choose what sort of world we want and so is everyone else, and this is the world we wound up with.”

      No – a large portion of the world is DEMOCRATIC, not libertarian. People voting for something is Democracy, not libertarianism.

      Secondly, a large portion of the world is still run by dictators, so it isn’t even right to say that the planet overall is Democratic.

      1. I agree Irish. Jerryskids is entirely incorrect that “the world is a libertarian place” or that “we are free to choose what sort of world we want”.

        I’d much prefer a world, where government only protects our lives, property and liberty. Instead, most governments use force for the benefit of those running the government. Reason provides example of that every day. For example: https://reason.com/blog/2015/02…..ta#comment

        If people in the US knew how unfree governments in the Middle East are (most have no idea since they’ve never lived in an unfree country) they’d understand why so many are joining ISIS to fight those governments. Of course, these fighters and Middle Eastern citizens don’t know how bad ISIS will make it for them later either. The best thing to do is get out, and let them sort it out. If ISIS wins, it won’t be long before citizens of the Islamic State, start fighting that government. They will never be free, until they are first willing to give freedom to others.

  5. his single “Hot Nigga,” which peaked at number six on Billboard’s Hot 100

    We are so fucked. Nuke it from orbit.

    1. I would give anything to hear Casey Kasem’s Head do a long-distance dedication of “Hot Nigga”.

      1. Motion seconded. Move to vote.

  6. I don’t think you can put out videos on YouTube with 75 million hits–bragging about being a gangster, selling crack, and shooting people–and then quibble about the police coming after you.

    If they could only get Al Capone on tax evasion, then I understand why they go for that.

    I also understand that if you brag about committing crimes in public and present it as reality, that I might consider that some kind of probable cause–if I were a judge looking at a request for a warrant.

    At some point, the cops aren’t doing their job if they aren’t investigating things that 75 million people are watching on YouTube, right?

    If the NYPD doesn’t even bother to investigate something everybody’s watching on YouTube, then that should generate headlines, too.

    1. Judges scrutinize warrant applications?

      1. That is a real knee-slapper, isn’t it?

      2. If they bothered, in this case, you’d have to think that bragging in public about crack dealing and shooting people might constitute probable cause.

        There’s an assumption of risk there on the artist’s part, too. He could have held out for legal assistance from his label. But didn’t.

        You take risks, and sometimes there are consequences for that. All is still right with the world.

        1. Peace out, y’all.

    2. I guess that, for my money, the question is; did he harm anyone? Not did he facilitate someone harming themselves.

      IF he was part of a plot to kill someone, try the sonofabitch. Otherwise he’s another, perhaps not-too-tragic, victim of society’s obsession with yrying to control how people get bombed.

      1. Meanwhile, he made a target of himself, and we’re supposed to think it’s unjust that he’s being targeted.

        This wasn’t an act of civil disobedience. This was somebody bragging about shooting people on the street.

  7. “The “right” argues that the “left”‘s reading denies Shmurda agency; that he made his choices, and now must pay the cost. If those choices happen to include gun crimes, he must be crazy, a monster?so much the better that he’s locked up.”

    Uh, I don’t think the right would think someone was a crazy monster for getting arrested for illegal gun possession given that the right would like looser gun laws. I think the right would probably think he’s a crazy monster for his DRUG possession, but the writer of that piece doesn’t seem to actually know the right’s position on firearms.

    I’m also confused as fuck by this:

    “Both sides see Shmurda’s behavior as pathological: the “left” as a result of circumstance, the “right” as a conscious decision. Either way, the end result is dehumanizing.”

    This makes no sense. If the right’s argument is that he made a ‘conscious decision’ and to deny this is to deny him ‘agency’ then the right is doing the opposite of dehumanizing him since their concern is with his human agency. Furthermore, how is saying that a person made a ‘conscious decision’ pathologizing that person? Isn’t saying an individual made a conscious choice literally the exact opposite of pathologizing someone?

    Do people even read what they write, or do they just churn out whatever bullshit pops into their mind in a sort of unedited stream of consciousness?

    1. Buzzwords, Irish, buzzwords.

  8. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is wha? I do……

    http://www.wixjob.com

  9. Epic Records signed Shmurda in July and released his single “Hot Nigga,”

    I cannot take a story seriously about a guy with the name Shmurda who would wright a song called “Hot Nigga”.

    Fuck him.

    1. It’s more darkly comic than that.

      In H.N., Schmurda brags about selling drugs and murdering rivals, and used to brag that his music was true.

  10. Imagine the ‘artist’ were a country musician who wrote hit songs about how much he wish all the mexican immigrants would leave the USA.

    Do you think there’d be a huge groundswell of support from the Left on how his possession of illegal weapons should be excused because of the ‘firearms culture’ so prevalent in rural areas… or that his drug use was a consequence of the poverty he’d experienced growing up on a pig farm in Missoulatuck Louisiana?

    Or do you think they’d want him fucking crucified?

  11. I just got paid usd6784 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that’s cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over usd 9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do,,,,,,
    http://www.work-mill.com

  12. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is wha? I do……

    http://www.wixjob.com

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