Albany murder suspects rapped about the thug life

“Got these bitches sucking on me ’til their motherfucking jaws sore.”

And so goes one of the more forceful lyrics in a four-minute rap track recorded by King James Modest and Ricardo Caldwell 17 and 18 respectively and both under arrest for the murder of Richard Bailey, a 20-year-old senior at the University at Albany last October.

Aspiring rappers, Modest and Caldwell are now in the confines of the Albany County Correctional Facility. The alleged triggerman, De Von Callicutt was received at the Coxsackie state prison facility in March on an unrelated charge.

Albany is not a particularly violent city, nor does it have the reputation for crime the way that other Upstate cities such as Buffalo and Rochester have. Still, a three-week period here included several murders – all involving guns –  an accidental shooting death and a random non-lethal attack on a bicyclist during broad daylight. Most of these incidents have occurred in the rougher sections of Albany, though Bailey’s murder took place in the heart of a neighborhood inhabited by college students.

Nearly a year since the night the Long Island native was shot in the head while returning from watching Monday Night Football at a friend’s apartment, many people in the city wondered if there would be any breaks in the crime.

My inclination was that someone would get arrested for doing something stupid. Looking for a deal, he or she may offer up information about the individuals involved in Bailey’s killing. That’s normally how these things happen, I think. So far, the police aren’t saying too much about how they got the three suspects, except that before he was sent to prison Callicutt had revealed his role in the shooting, ostensibly to someone who said something to the cops.

I suppose that it’s rough to say that any one person is destined for a life of crime, but listening to the lyrics in Modest and Caldwell’s low-quality recording, “Uptowns Bubblegum”, it’s clear that these two at least emulated the gangsta culture that has landed and many young men, and perhaps themselves if they are convicted, in prison.

Certainly, they’ll have an opportunity to argue their innocence and if they choose a jury or bench trial. It’s unlikely that Uptowns Bubblegum will make it into any trial, but it seems relevant in this respect: whether they are guilty or innocent Modest and Caldwell have a pretty dim view on the world around them; one the requires the use of force and violence to achieve riches and notoriety. It’s a huge part of the hip-hop culture, packaged and sold to disaffected young men in broken down cities throughout our country.

Out in the world right now, there are probably a half-million young men who want to be rappers, who have recorded their own demos or made cheap slide show youtube videos. Many of their songs are peppered with references to shooting snitches, driving fast cars, wearing expensive threads and sexual exploits with women. The life of a thug is a thing to be admired and exalted. With it, the idea of extinguishing someone’s life over some material item or amount of cash is par for the course. Many rap song attest to this. It really is very sad.

If the Albany police got these three guys I sure as hell hope they’re the right ones. Nobody wants to think of the wrong people getting in trouble while a killer or killers go free. I guess it will be interesting to see how this whole affair plays out. If Modest, who once impressed Albany mayoral candidate Corey Ellis as a kid escaping the troubled streets of Arbor Hill, is convicted for his alleged role, it will be decades before he steps out of custody – at least 25 years. The world will have changed a lot by then. I wonder if he and Caldwell, who comes from nearby Schenectady, will ever look back on the track they recorded and see it for what reasonable folks see it for, which is poor attempt distinguish themselves the easy way.

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Shooting at 327 Second Street

About two weeks ago I wrote about the killing of Henry Ferrell, a 32-year-old man on Western Avenue in Albany. At the time, the police had kept a cruiser out for days in front of the residence while people were investigating. Last week they picked up their first suspect, a man, also 32, from Brooklyn. On Friday the police grabbed his alleged accomplice, a boy who turned 16 just last week. Police say that it appears that the suspects Dwayne Wright, the elder and his teenage companion, Kymeir Turner, an Albany resident, killed Ferrell in a botched robbery. I’d jogged past that apartment quite a few times and wondered out of curiosity how long it would take to find the killer(s). We’ll see how the case goes.

Interestingly, Turner is from Second Street, a one-way road heading westward in the rough Arbor Hill section of the city. Just blocks away from his residence there was a murder early Sunday morning at 327 Second Street. Zechariah Banks, a 27-year-old from across the Hudson River in Troy was apparently shot also during a botched robbery at a birthday party.

I was sitting in a Valvoline having my transmission fluid changed when I heard about it on the local cable news station. I wrote down the number of the place and headed there with my camera. I’m always a bit reluctant to take pictures in Arbor Hill. I suppose that’s a part of my own racial insecurity. Feels weird poking around a nearly all-black neighborhood with your camera, particularly after a shooting. Still, I was able to get some alright shots. An Albany area Web site used one for their morning news update section.

I found the crime scene. It had already been cordoned off by the police for several hours. A news cameraman was there to take some B-roll footage of the block. There was nothing much to shoot there, really. The cops were obviously behind the tape and downstairs in the basement looking for evidence on the shooting.

Albany is not a large city (not even 100,000 people) and so it’s easy to recognize people from the news. Officer William Bonanni was watching over the scene from the outside, monitoring onlookers. Bonanni is a bit notorious in this small city for his own legal problems. Still, he was quite accomodating and friendly enough to approach with a few general questions about what had happened.

Bonanni had a good point about this shooting, which is that it was something that was very hard to prevent the way other crimes are.

There’s not much you can do to prevent people who have it in their mind to shoot others in a robbery from doing it. Preventing drug and gun sales, maybe.

Anyway, I grew up in the suburbs around Albany in a nice, mostly quiet town where there have only been a few murders in the last few years. I’ve lived in Boston and Brooklyn where by virtue of their being larger cities, there are more shootings and the like. Still, I’ve never really been exposed to crime scenes, which is to say nothing of killings. So you’ll have to excuse me for being a little wet behind the ears yesterday as I marveled that on this narrow block, within yards of a taped off area, life was going on quite normally.

Yesterday was one of the last days of summer, really. Labor Day is next Monday and a few days later the kids will be back in school. On Second Street yesterday, right across from the shooting scene, kids were enjoying a mild, sunny day. A gentleman whose SUV was parked at 325 Second Street, was washing it down. Life seemed to be going on pretty normally.

Still, it’s strange to think that across the river in Troy several peoples’ days were absolutely destroyed with the loss of someone they cared about. It must be awful to find out on a Sunday that your son or brother or good friend was popped in the chest over some money while he was enjoying himself at a birthday party. For the people who live at 327 it must be awful to think someone just ran into their residence with a gun with at least the thought of using it on someone in the back of their mind.

The power of loneliness

I’ve been interested in reading about George Sodini, the Pittsburgh area man who killed several people in at a gym two days ago. Media reports so far cite a blog Sodini wrote as providing powerful clues to his motivation for the murder suicide he carried out.

According to a blog the 48-year-old man wrote, he was missing something profound and essential from his life; the company of a woman.

“A man needs a woman for confidence. He gets a boost on the job, career, with other men, and everywhere else when he knows inside he has someone to spend the night with and who is also a friend. This type of life I see is a closed world with me specifically and totally excluded.”

Reading excerpts from this man’s blog, on which he allegedly wrote of his plan to carry out a mass murder, it is clear that Sodini suffered from profound mental illness, loneliness and insatiable rage. It’s easy to crack a joke that a man who hasn’t been laid in nearly two decades would go on a rampage, but it’s also hard to imagine just how miserable this man’s life must have been.

I’m not a psychologist or mental health professional, so I can’t claim to know how Sodini’s loneliness and experience of rejection influenced his decision to kill innocent people. My only guess is that coupled with poor brain chemistry and emotional issues, people who see the world rigidly seem far more likely to end their life and the lives of others.

Last week I watched Eric Steel’s 2006 documentary The Bridge, which tells the stories of at least a half-dozen folks who his camera crew had filmed jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge in 2004. Steel’s movie was obviously graphic, shocking and disturbing, but it was also powerful in that through the friends of the deceased, we are able to get a clearer picture of what contributed to their suicides. One of the central characters in the film is a man filmed walking about the firetruck red bridge. He wears a black leather jacket, dark pants, dark sunglasses and had long dark hair. He looks like someone you might find at a heavy metal bar or a record store. Quickly the viewer realizes that at the denouement of the documentary, he will leap to his death. His friends tell his story. In hid mid-thirties, he was a man who seemed to see the worst in the world and was unable to give himself a break. He claimed to only want the companionship of a nice woman, and went about seeking love through the Internet only to set himself up for a string of disappointment and rejection. At one point he even traveled to St. Louis to be with a woman he met online only to have that fall through. He called friends at one point from a span in that city, perhaps the Eads Bridge to tell them he was ready to jump. Months later, after returning to California, he did make the leap to his death, a very disturbing and effortless backwards 200 foot drop into the bay.

It seemed to me that this man had the expectation that if only he could find someone his life would have meaning. Perhaps approaching his forties, he felt there would be no way he could handle the indignity of life alone. I can’t be sure, but it seemed that his suicide was in part of his unbending expectation that things had to be a certain way or else life was not worth living.

A similar rigidity – coupled with obvious psychological and emotional issues – certainly contributed to the shooting rampage that George Sodini went on the other night before turning his gun on himself.

In no way am I justifying the actions of these men. I’m not sure, but I believe murder is a sin and suicide may be as well. Regardless, the emotions related with loneliness, particularly protracted loneliness are obviously very strong and can cloud the mind of the person who suffers. Most human beings feel a strong need to belong and to connect with others. Society in many ways indoctrinates us with the notion that we all must have someone in our lives. The proliferation of online dating sites attests to the need for companionship and relationship. Ironically, just as awkwardly approaching a potential mate at a coffee shop can yield little success and whittle down one’s interpersonal skills, so too can online dating. I know because I’ve been doing it for three years now with little success.

The easiest thing to do in dating and in searching for a partner is to beat the living crap out of oneself when it doesn’t work out. Rejection can be one of the most potent and vulnerable experiences a person can go through in their life. Coupled with loneliness, it can feed on itself. One needs more than anything the ability to acknowledge feelings of loneliness and the experience of rejection in their own life, accept the hurt it causes and then move on without holding on to feelings of self-hatred and anger towards the world.

It’s likely that Sodini had bigger more potent issues than simply being rejected by women. It’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to determine, despite any blog he may have had, his full motivation for ending others’ lives and then his own. Still, there are a lot of lonely people out there in this world; the great irony of a planet of 6 billion people.