Today: I’m down with the clown till I’m dead in the ground.
That’s a fan’s way of saying he likes Insane Clown Posse, a Detroit rap duo that figures into an attempted murder trial going on in San Joaquin Superior Court.
Drifter Chad Campbell, 21, is charged with assaulting his road buddy, Tommy Painter, 21, with a hatchet as they hitchhiked through Stockton on Nov. 8.
What makes the case different is the prosecutor’s contention that Campbell should face stiffer charges because he belongs to a violent subcult of Insane Clown Posse fans.
That, the prosecution argues, makes him a gangsta. A gang enhancement adds up to 10 years to a sentence.
So certain fans of a rap group are a gang? Is this a misbegotten attempt to criminalize pop culture? Or are law enforcement officials trying to nip a real menace in the bud?
The two rappers of Insane Clown Posse, Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, style themselves as “violent clowns” with face paint and a “dark carnival” shtick.
They sell millions of albums. They boast legions of fans, called Juggalos and Juggalettes. Some fans wear crazy clown clothes and paint their faces in a creepy way that would not go over at little Johnny’s birthday.
ICP’s hip-hop is spattered with elements of idiocy, profanity, supernatural hoodoo and “Saw”-type horror movies. Certain lyrics describe hacking people up.
Blender magazine once voted them “the worst band of any musical genre.”
I would love to go on about ICP’s demented live shows; wrestling school (!?); Hatchet Gear merchandise; annual Gathering of the Juggalos; Juggalos for Jesus; and why the rap duo sprays its fans with an obscure soda called Faygo. But you can Google all that.
More to the point, the logo of ICP’s label, Psychopathic Records, is a cartoonish dreadlocked man running with a meat cleaver. Which brings us back to Campbell and his hatchet.
After a breakfast of malt liquor, “four loko” (a beer and energy drink cocktail), pot and, reportedly for Painter, hallucinogenic Jimson weed, Campbell allegedly went berserk over Painter’s rude behavior and used the business end of the hatchet on him. Painter’s maimed.
Investigators noted Campbell carried Insane Clown Posse’s new CD. He sports tats of the hatchet man logo on his left arm and on his right hand. And, well, there’s his hatchet.
Law enforcement officials don’t contend all Juggalos are gangstas. They say a segment of Juggalos is a violent subgroup fitting the legal definition of a gang, and Campbell fits this bill.
“Nationally they are known for their violence, especially the use of hatchets,” said Sgt. Rodney Rego of the Stockton Police’s Gang Violence Suppression Unit.
The Penal Code defines a gang by three criteria: it is “an ongoing association of three or more people with a common sign or symbol who individually or collectively engage in a pattern of criminal behavior.”
It’s this third criterion that a judge found wanting on Monday when he refused to grant the prosecutor a gang enhancement.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Ott disagrees.
“He had the tattoos, he’s carrying around the hatchet and, when faced with disrespect, he used it, which is what Juggalos do,” Ott argued.
The violent response to disrespect enhances the gang’s notoriety, hence its power. That’s the “common criminal enterprise,” Ott’s theory goes.
“No different than Sureños,” Ott said.
The SPD’s gang unit has documented about 40 Stockton Juggalos, and busted some for crimes, though Rego wouldn’t say much, not wanting to increase their notoriety.
A man identifying himself as a Juggalo left an indignant message with the paper: The gangsta allegation is crap, and Juggalos are just harmless dope-smoking music fans.
It’s a tricky question. If a Juggalo does not see himself as belonging to a gang, then he does not conceive of his criminal actions as bolstering the notoriety of the gang but as an individual action. Any “gang” then seems a matter of legal semantics; of a social or legislative choice to outlaw a class of people.
Is that a good idea?
Ott likened Juggalos today to Nuestra Familia decades ago: a nascent gang with the potential to become a major societal scourge.
“Forty years from now, there’s the potential for the Juggalos being much bigger than it is now,” he warned. “You know, there was the first Norteño case or Sureño case or Crips case or Bloods case. Once it starts, you can’t stop it.”
Contact columnist Michael Fitzgerald at (209) 546-8270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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