YSL’s indictment illustrates Atlanta’s predatory justice system
Young Thug has become a pop culture icon with his lyrics. Now justice makes him public enemy number one because of them.
Last Thursday, Thug was denied bail for his RICO charge in the YSL indictment. Judge Ural Glanville said he feared Thug would be a flight risk and intimidate witnesses if released on bail. The denial, which comes after YSL Records artists Gunna and Yak Gotti’s bail denials, became the latest setback in a torrent of legal precariousness for the 28 people who have been ensnared in a 56-year indictment. charges in May, including charges of murder, racketeering, armed robbery and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The indictment lists dozens of song lyrics and music videos as evidence.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis claimed in May press conference that YSL is not just a label called Young Stoner Life, but a “criminal street gang” called Young Slime Life which it claims is responsible for more than 50 murders in the Atlanta area, “committing, conservatively, 75-80% of all violent crime in our community.
Willis thinks YSL needs to ‘be rooted out of our community’ and says his number one goal as DA is targeting gangs, warning we can expect to see more RICO indictments against other street gangs in a close future. His comments and a leaked Georgia office of Investigation which listed YSL and Lil Baby’s 4PF as ‘criminal street gangs targeted for investigation’, sparked concerns that more Atlanta artists and crews would be ensnared in the RICO cases. .
Predatory politicians and prosecutors across the country have recently used rap lyrics and music videos as evidence in their investigations and court cases, criminalizing an art form that has historically been subject to racist treatment. Gun violence has increased in economically depressed areas that have suffered even greater deprivation during the pandemic, but instead of blaming poverty – the root of crime – many politicians like Willis are blaming music. When citizens are desperate for answers to stop the violence, it is easy for them to buy into prosecutors’ accounts that the artist’s violent songs are actual confessions of violence and offer to get them off the streets. And it pays to grab headlines claiming that platinum bands like Young Thug and Gunna are using their resources to fund gangs that actualize the violence some of their music portrays. It’s not a hard sell for citizens who never liked rap anyway, and the line between art and reality is a delicate one in hip-hop. But sadly, DAs like Willis are bulldozing the notion of artistic license in pursuit of the justice system’s goal of disproportionately entrenching blacks and browns. And because of that, RICO is becoming an all-too-common part of the rap lexicon.