On Oct. 5, news broke that Pooh Shiesty will be going on trial for three charges related to a 2020 shooting in Miami. The Memphis artist, born Lontrell Denell Williams Jr, is facing 20 years each for charges of conspiracy to possess firearms in furtherance of violent crime, and Hobbs Act robbery conspiracy. He is also facing life for allegedly discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
The case was investigated as part of the federal government’s Project Safe Neighborhoods initiative, which, according to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, aims to “bring together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.” PSN has been methodically trumping up gun possession cases to federal crimes in order to inflict harsher sentences on its targets. The government has invested over $2 billion into the gang and gun-targeting program since it was launched in 2001.
The Trump administration pumped money into the program in 2017 (with almost $500 million given to Chicago alone) in order to back up their “tough on crime” campaign promises.
Framing PSN as a crime reduction initiative makes it sound like a noble cause, but the program is a net negative for the affected communities. Critics of PSN contend that the program is following the predatory path of the “War on Drugs” with a “War on Guns” that doesn’t actually help the community, and disproportionately affects Black and Brown people who predominantly populate high-crime areas.
Anti-carceral advocates have been calling to defund the police in droves, but the justice system has instead responded with a program that will help federal agents lock people away even easier than they were before. The stigma against violent crimes may make people shrug off the severity of this tactic, but it’s one of the worst examples of the system’s obsession with streamlining the beast of mass incarceration.
The program has targeted several hip-hop artists lately, taking advantage of the criminalization of rap by weaponizing rap lyrics and rap videos against individuals and purported criminal organizations, which makes artists susceptible to being reeled into sprawling indictments nationwide.