Law enforcement in Richmond, Calif. have found a new way to keep a tab on gang violence happening in their city: on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Like everyone else, it seems gang members like to boast about their successes on social media. Their moments of pride, sadly, just happened to be homicides.
In a new report on the practice that law enforcement officers are calling "Cyberbanging," a Richmond detective on the gang detail tells the Contra Costa Times just how obvious gang members can be with the clues:
"We have seen situations where someone will commit a shooting or a homicide, and they'll immediately write something on social media," said Matt Anderson, a Richmond gang detective. "'Man down,' 'scoreboard,' those are the kinds of phrases they'll use, and it gives us a lot of clues about what just happened."
The CoCo Times likens the rise in social media to gang graffiti and old-school street corner braggadocio, but the trail of evidence left by social media is much more useful for making an arrest. In a 2012 gang murder trial, the 23-year-old suspect Joe Blacknell was successfully convicted after the deputy district attorney presented Myspace photos of Blacknell holding an AK-47 and private messages about the deceased victim to the jury. In San Jose, a deputy district attorney who works with the Santa Clara county gang unit says more than half of the country's gang trials involve some evidence gleaned from social media.
Although Facebook and Myspace have been revealed evidence in the past, Instagram is, it seems, the current platform of choice for Bay Area gang members. According to Richmond Detective Matt Anderson, who says he spends more time on social media than an average teenager, Instagram poses a challenge since it allows for more anonymity and the messages are more coded. YouTube, likewise, has been flooded with amateur music videos that double as gang signs, threats, and homicide boasting.
On a related (and more humorous) note, a couple of small-time thieves were arrested outside of Sacramento in 2013 after they posed for an Instagram photo with $120 in Carl's Jr. they purchased with a stolen credit card.