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You might expect the news media’s right-wing trolls to use the shooting that took place just after Moechella’s Juneteenth celebration as an excuse to rail against the recently proclaimed federal holiday, Joe Biden, and “liberal virtue signaling.”
But it came as a surprise when Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee and his boss, Mayor Muriel Bowser, appeared to blame Moechella’s Juneteenth event as the cause of 15-year-old Chase Pool’s death. Just hours after the June 19 event, Contee stood next to Bowser at a press conference and assured viewers that, “We will certainly want to make sure that people are held accountable when they hold unpermitted events in our city.” Not to be outdone, Bowser went after the Moechella organizers for lacking “any proper planning for the number of people” attending the event. Various media outlets quickly pointed out that while the event was “unpermitted,” as many demonstrations in the city are, it was co-sponsored and promoted by various city agencies. In fact, Bowser’s deputy mayor, John Falcicchio, endorsed Moechella on Fox 5 DC a few days before the event.
Listening to Contee and Bowser, local jazz musician Aaron Myers wasn’t having it. An organizer of the DMV Music Stakeholder Group, he quickly sent out a press release on June 21 correcting the mistakes he saw in the media coverage of the shooting that killed Pool and left three people injured, including a police officer.
Myers was at the Junetheenth event at 14th and U Streets NW before the shooting took place. In his press release, he wrote in bold: “Sunday’s mass shooting took place after 9 p.m—a full 45 minutes after the live music associated with the Juneteenth event, a peaceful demonstration, had ended.” His assertion is supported by other attendees.
Myers says the attacks on Moechella from city leaders are appalling. “I found that to be dismissive of the actual problem of inequity in Washington, D.C. that has led to the uptick in violent crime,” he tells City Paper. “A pattern was resurfacing of blaming creatives and musicians and a specific art form for the ills of the city and the failings of our leadership.”
At a time when unrestrained gun violence has resulted in an astonishing number of casualties both locally and nationally, Myers does not understand how Moechella’s permit status was or is relevant to the shooting, particularly since so many police officers were safeguarding the event. (Contee has said at least 100 officers were on-site that day.)
“Moechella having or not having a permit is like saying that the school in Texas was a school, or churches were churches,” says Myers. “When someone brings a gun and decides to open fire….no permit would stop that. No type of school would stop that, no type of church would stop that, no type of music would stop that. So I was disheartened that they would choose to say that it was a lack of a permit that caused this incident.”
Even Rolling Stone magazine took note, with an excellent article published July 2 by Meagan Jordan. In it, she notes that even Moechella’s summer of 2020 musical rallies supporting the movement for Black lives, which attracted an estimated 40,000 people, lacked permits as well as violence.
To some in the go-go community, there was something painfully familiar about Contee and Bowser’s focus on Moechella. Organized by Long Live GoGo’s Justin “Yaddiya” Johnson, Moechella was created in 2019 after the speakers that had played go-go for decades outside Shaw’s Metro PCS store were temporarily turned off following complaints by residents of a recently constructed nearby luxury high-rise. Along with the Don’t Mute DC movement, Long Live GoGo’s Moechella has reenergized the go-go community and advocated on behalf of city residents on issues including voting rights and statehood. Moechella has also focused on celebrations of the culture in the streets, an important affirmation in the face of the city’s rampant gentrification.
Contee and Bowser’s focus on Moechella is a familiar deflection: Instead of addressing the underlying causes of violence, they quickly blamed an organization that promotes and celebrates go-go culture. Politicians and police, who were unable to reduce street violence during the crack cocaine epidemic in the mid- to late ’80s similarly pointed their fingers at go-go bands, but in truth, the music had nothing to do with the carnage.
Throughout much of the ’80s and ’90s, city leaders blamed go-go simply because they could get away with it. As a result, many venues refused to book go-go acts, and the genre’s musicians struggled to find places to perform. Many were forced to take on day jobs to supplement their lost income.
“I grew up on the go-gos in the ’90s, and I remember when go-go was scapegoated for violence that was happening across the city. And it did have a devastating impact on go-go,” says At-Large Councilmember Robert White. “I think as a city, we suppressed go-go for a long time, and it’s just starting to see a resurgence….One of the most incredible things I’ve seen over the past three years with Long Live GoGo, Moechella, Don’t Mute DC, is a resurgence of go-go back to the mainstream.”
Go-go’s resurgence, arguably the result of that ill-advised effort to shut down the go-go music playing outside Shaw’s Metro PCS store, included legislation designating go-go as the official music of D.C.—a bill that Bowser signed “with great fanfare,” notes White, who lost his primary bid to unseat Bowser last month.
“We can’t cloak ourselves in go-go and that culture when it’s convenient, and then point the finger and do things that are very destructive, when that’s convenient,” White says.
The city’s homegrown culture has thrived since go-go was named D.C.’s official sound. Go-go bands played many of the demonstrations throughout 2020 supporting the movement for Black lives and protesting against Trump administration policies. Once pandemic restrictions were lifted, both traditional and bouncebeat go-go bands resumed playing multiple shows each week; every year, the number of shows surges with warm weather. Countless events have taken place in recent years without any violence at all.
“What we know is that there is an epidemic of violence in the city, that violence is not created by go-go,” White continues. “I think we need to be very careful about scapegoating because we’ve seen historically what happens when we do that. Moechella has been going on for several years now. They’ve had events around D.C. statehood, around Black Lives Matter protests, around their original one, the Don’t Mute DC concept. And it is an energy and a movement that has really pulled people together….There’s so much good that has come out of Moechella and Don’t Mute DC, and I think leaders have to be particularly careful and responsible to not scapegoat a local tradition like go-go when we are responding to a citywide epidemic of gun violence.”
Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George has also expressed her concern over Contee and Bowser’s criticism of Moechella. “What we see now is go-go music being co-opted and embraced when it’s beneficial for the government, but distanced and scapegoated when something goes wrong. I think it’s a double standard, and I think it was disingenuous,” Lewis George says. “The comments that were made about the event being unpermitted were shortsighted and unnecessary, and reminded me of when I grew up in go-go. It was villainized and treated as if it was a cause of violence happening in the city, when really go-go is a celebration about unity, love, and uplift of the community.”
Both the photographs and text in the 2021 book Long Live GoGo: The Movement make clear that Moechella is about more than simply performing go-go music in public spaces. It represents a convergence of political activism and go-go culture: Thousands of Black people gathering in the streets to celebrate that culture and demand visibility as gentrification continues to push Black families beyond the District’s borders. Yaddiya would not comment for this story, but in his introduction to the book, he describes his understanding of how sociopolitical dynamics impacted go-go.
“I realized how the Go-Go culture was starting to become less prevalent and pushed out of the city due to gentrification, lack of resources/opportunity, and the lingering stigma of violence that haunted it for years,” he writes.
Lewis George has worked with Long Live GoGo as an organizer and has a clear understanding of the logistics involved in planning events like the Juneteenth celebration. “The event was obviously sponsored by at least two D.C. agencies, [the] Housing Finance Agency, and 202 Creates, which is under the mayor’s office,” she says. “And we had over 100 [police] officers who were present at the event, and other government agency resources were being used as well, such as D.C. government vehicles, to block off streets.”
D.C. police still have not arrested a suspect related to Pool’s death. Neither the mayor’s office nor MPD responded to phone and email inquiries for this story. Several go-go artists were reluctant to speak on the record, but say they’re disappointed with the demonization of Moechella.
“I think that it was very triggering because of the long and troubled history that we went through with go-go music and crime and gun violence, that was really rooted in very real … microaggressions towards the Black community,” says Lewis George. “Now it is even more piercing because … gentrification has happened and displacement has been so aggressive in the District for us.
“Moechella has been about uplifting D.C. residents and Washingtonians, and we have to keep it there,” Lewis George continues. “The other reason it’s so important to push back on the narrative of blaming go-go music and Moechella is because it gets us away from actually addressing the actual root causes of gun violence .… What do we do to make sure 15-year-olds like Chase Pool are not killed in our streets? That’s what the conversation needs to be about.”