Few noticed at the time, but the 2016 killing of Malik Pratt, 18, outside a banquet hall lit a fuse that in May exploded into one of the most violent months in recent memory, according to police chiefs and constables in the Texas City and La Marque area.
Feuding rap crews are likely behind at least nine shootings in La Marque and Texas City in May alone, and an uncertain number of homicides and other shootings in the years since Pratt’s death, law enforcement officers said.
The spate of violence has prominent members of the community forming task groups and anti-violence organizations to stem the bloodshed and issuing calls for more opportunities for mid-county youth to belong to something besides gangs and rap crews.
No one has been charged with killing Pratt, a La Marque resident, although police believe they have arrested people tangentially involved for other crimes.
They believe also the violence that ended his life is rooted even further back in history to a time when war between the Crips and Bloods — rival drug gangs formed in Los Angeles once counting members in the thousands from coast to coast — sent violent crime rates soaring across the country.
But while the conflict has sources in the pages of history, the feuding groups were reared in the digital world of the 21st century and their beefs play out across the disparate pages of social media and present new difficulties for both law enforcement and the larger community.
“I haven’t seen it this bad since the gang wars in the 1990s in this area,” La Marque Police Chief Kirk Jackson said. “But back then, when a Blood was shot, you knew it was a Crip. Now, it’s just not clear.”
IN THE BEGINNING
Understanding the complicated state of affairs in the middle of Galveston County, as well as the difficult task ahead for community and law enforcement leaders, requires going back to the beginning.
Back then, before Pratt was killed and the tit-for-tat shooting began, the two feuding rap crews were one group, Jackson said.
Rifts in that original group, the Cash Money Clicc, led to the formation of the second group, the Get Money Clik, Jackson said.
Community members and law enforcement officers differ about exactly how to assess and describe members of the two groups.
“I think this started with rap rivalries that quickly turned violent,” said Nakisha Paul, a member of the Texas City Independent School District Board of Trustees and a longtime community activist. “It’s been happening for years.”
Some said it was wrong to think of them as gangs, while others said they were just gangs by a different name.
BY ANOTHER NAME
Both groups are hybrid gangs, which means they are small cliques of members from various street and prison gangs joined to form a clique, Texas City Police Chief Joe Stanton said in a written statement to The Daily News.
Initially, both groups were composed of about 95 percent Crips but have since grown to include Bloods and other gang members, according to the statement.
“They claim to be rap groups and not gang members, but by law definition they are gang members,” according to the statement.
Members of the groups frequently post videos, rapping about women, disputes, money and drugs, on websites such as YouTube.
Many of their violent outbursts began during exchanges on other social media sites, such as Facebook and Snapchat, Jackson said.
The vast majority are young, about 14 years and older, Galveston County Constable Precinct 3 Derrick Rose said. Some of the leaders, however, are in their 30s, 40s or 50s, he said.
The crew members all seem to share a penchant for gun culture, in particular, said Tyerre El Amin Boyd, a lifelong Galveston County resident and former convict, who’s using his experience in gangs to reach out to those engaged in violence now.
“A lot of them are just walking around with weapons,” he said.
The crews have more guns than the police, Rose agreed.
There’s a lot investigators still don’t know about the rap crews’ activities over the years, Jackson said. Officers hear rumors about crew feuds leading to certain unsolved crimes here and there, but investigators have had a tough time getting those involved to talk.
“Our suspects are often our victims,” Jackson said. “And so they don’t want to cooperate.”
But one thing detectives have been able to pin down is that a major catalyst in today’s feuds was Pratt’s death back in 2016, Jackson said.
Pratt died April 11 of a gunshot to the head. Witnesses told police there had been an exchange of gunfire between two vehicles before Pratt’s death.
In the years since then, La Marque police have made some arrests they believe might be connected to that shooting, but investigators still don’t know what, exactly, transpired before, Jackson said.
The shooting is what led to the splintering of the groups into competing factions, he said.
A COMMUNITY MOURNS
The La Marque and Texas City area has seen its share of violence in recent years. In fact, The Daily News has written about rallies to stop the mid-county violence almost every year since 2016.
But the spate of shootings in May has led to rapid community organizing and calls to expand offerings for youth.
“Social organizations are the primary routes out of social dysfunction,” Boyd argues. “When I was growing up, when gang culture started to infiltrate Galveston, most people first got involved because the little league organizations were dying out and the Boys & Girls Club was unpopular at the time. These programs need to change with the times.”
This is personal for Boyd. His nephew, Derrick Phillips, 19, of Galveston, was killed outside a gas station in September 2019. Boyd believes the killing was connected to the gangs.
Other notable community members, taking up Boyd’s call, have formed a task force to try to communicate with crew members. They’ve also created an anti-violence group, called Stop the Violence 409, and are working with local groups to provide more career development and classes for those who might be drawn to that way of life.
“I think the young people, a lot of them are influenced by guns as a way out,” said Tracie Steans, an organizer behind Stop the Violence 409. “They’re influenced through music and peer pressure. Young people need something to do.”
Police in Texas City are investigating at least four shootings in April and May that might be connected to this rap crew feud, Stanton said.
And there are at least four, maybe five, others in La Marque, Jackson added.
Deon Stewart, 30, died in connection with the feud, detectives told The Daily News. Police at about 11:41 p.m. May 26 responded to a shooting in the 200 block of Sarlee Drive and found Stewart with a gunshot wound.
Officers saw several shots had been fired into the residence, police said.
Another man on May 11 was wounded in a drive-by shooting outside a Valero gas station near the intersection of FM 1765 and Vauthier Road, Jackson said. The man hit by gunfire attempted to drive away from the scene and was involved in a collision.
The man was hospitalized but survived the shooting, officials said.
In Texas City, two people were wounded in the four shootings, Stanton said. Not all of the shootings were reported to police when they happened.
It is unclear exactly how many other shootings in years and months before May might be related to this feud, the chiefs said.
TOUGH TASK AHEAD
Law enforcement agencies across Galveston County have banded together and devoted many resources to combating the violence. But the task ahead remains daunting because solid information is hard to come by and detectives are overloaded with cases, Stanton said.
And community members are working overtime to start task forces and groups quickly and reach out to those that might be personally involved in the fighting, Paul said.
Paul is a member of a task force along with other local officials, such as Rose, Texas City Commissioner Phil Roberts, La Marque Commissioners Earl Alexander and Keith Bell and others whose goal is to work for the community and reach out to the leaders of these groups.
“Our community is scared and concerned,” Bell said. “I stand with them in fear and concern. That’s why it’s important that we act now.”
Meeting with members of the gangs, while difficult, will be critical to solving the problem, Bell said.
“How did we get here?” Bell asked. “What are our goals? We want to see if we can make progress with them, understand their concerns and what their agendas are, so that we can help facilitate them outside of the gangs and the guns. That will no longer be tolerated.”
Community involvement will be critical to reducing violence, Jackson said.
“The rallies, the vigils to stop violence are important,” Jackson said. “But readers of this story are going to know people who are involved in this. And they need to make sure that their loved ones hear that the community is not going to put up with this anymore. That’s what it’s going to take.”
From a law enforcement perspective, detectives investigating these cases have a far different task than those who looked into gang violence in the 1990s, Jackson said. The rap crews stake out turf largely in the digital world, outside of traditional territory.
“They’re from Galveston, Hitchcock and Houston,” Rose added. “They’re coming from as far away as Houston to participate.”
‘A VOLATILE SITUATION’
And it isn’t just rival crew members fighting each other, which makes identifying culprits even harder, law enforcement officials said. Sometimes members shoot at people in the same crew over a dispute that emerges in the lyrics of their YouTube rap videos.
“They’re shooting each other over diss tracks, over fights about girls; it’s just a volatile situation,” Rose said. “It’s all over social media.”
The Texas City Police Department has dedicated three of its eight detectives to nothing but focusing on these recent shootings, Stanton said. And another six patrol officers are rotating in two-person units to respond to possible reports.
Another two patrol officers from the La Marque Police Department are dedicated to this task force along with another detective, Jackson said. The department’s three other detectives also assist as they can, but some have 75 active cases.
“No one will talk,” Jackson said. “This is a tough battle, and a constantly evolving group.”