As mayoral candidate in 2005, Senate hopeful John Fetterman adopted a unique tactic to appeal to young people in Braddock, Pennsylvania: touting the borough’s ties to the notorious Crips street gang. After his election, he downplayed the gang’s prevalence in his city and attributed some of their gang activity to the acts of “disenfranchised” and “disenfranchised” youth.
In his first run for mayor in 2005, Fetterman adopted the slogan “Vote John Mayor of Braddocc”, a nod to the spelling members of the local Crips gang used for the town. After being elected, Fetterman created the Braddocc.com website as part of a revitalization project to attract young people to the run-down steel town. The now-defunct website, which Fetterman started with his own money, explains that “Braddocc” was “unofficially renamed” by the “young and disenfranchised for his Crip allegiance.” The Department of Justice considers the Crips, founded in Southern California in the 1970s, to be one of the most violent street gangs in the country.
Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, was criticized during his Senate bid for his progressive views on criminal justice reform. Republicans have described Fetterman as soft on crime for calling for the release of a third of inmates from the Pennsylvania jail. As chairman of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons, Fetterman voted alone to free several people convicted of first-degree murder. The person he appointed council secretary called for “disarming the police” and called cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal a “friend” and “buddy”. Free Washington Beacon reported.
Fetterman has denied that he glorifies Crips or gang culture, although he has acknowledged that his adoption of the “Braddocc” moniker helped him in his 2005 campaign by attracting younger voters.
“At the end of the day, I carry their flag, because they were the ones who made the difference that I won by vote in that first election,” he said in 2015. “It’s not a glorification of gang violence, nor an endorsement of gang violence,” he added. of the nickname “Braddocc”, noting that he “catched some flak…because some people thought I was spelling him like a gangster”.
While Fetterman promoted Crips lingo, he downplayed the gang’s presence in Braddock following their election victory. In 2006, he said the gang graffiti that appeared on buildings in the borough was the act of “a marginalized youth who is disgruntled and has few options.”
“You have ‘C’z Up’ and ‘Ghuttacide’, but at the end of the day it’s not a movement; it’s not a reflection of what’s going on. Don’t mistakenly assume it’s is a kind of movement, a kind of criminal element,” he told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette in 2006.
Fetterman said punishing teenagers behind the graffiti was not an ideal remedy and that the graffiti “seemed scarier than it was”.
But the Crips were active in Braddock during Fetterman’s tenure as mayor.
Members of the gang appeared in a late 2000s video discussing their life in Braddock, promoting their music with Braddock-based ‘Geto Bred Entertainment’ and warning rivals against ‘whistle blowing’ to the police. The video, which also uses the moniker “Braddocc,” shows gang members rapping in front of graffiti tagged “C’z Up” and “Ghuttacide” which Fetterman discussed with the Post-Gazette.
Fetterman’s nod to the Crips still hangs in his loft in Braddock, where a town sign emblazoned with the gang’s graffiti hangs above his fridge. The New York Times photographed Fetterman in front of the panel for a 2011 profile. Fetterman’s wife posted a photo to social media in 2020 with sign in background.