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ARE STRAIGHT-EDGE CREWS GOING TOO FAR?
When the Pensacola Police issued an all-points bulletin last month requesting information about the recent spate of graffiti—or territorial tags with the acronym "TDC"—marking the various walls and fences throughout the area, it was almost comical.
If investigators conducted a simple Internet search by typing in "Pensacola" and "TDC" into Google, eight members of the self-proclaimed TDC—or Till Death Crew—would pop up. One click and the police would have access to the group's MySpace hub where the crew's so-called underbelly interacted and posted evidence of their exploits, including how one member tagged "TDC" on a friend's fence with urine.
Serious stuff? Perhaps.
However, as the investigation unfolded and the police questioned the eight members of the TDC who claimed responsibility for at least some of the graffiti marring Pensacola's usually pristine façade, they failed to get at the root of what TDC is truly about.
In the 142-page police report obtained by the Independent News, not once did they mention that the kids ranging from 15- to 21-years old were part of a larger network that has grown out of the hardcore-punk music scene.
TDC is a straight-edge crew.
You know, the don't drink, don't smoke subculture of usually younger middle-to-upper class white males connected with the philosophy of abstaining from what they call poisons—everything from the consumption of illegal chemicals such as ecstasy, speed and pot to legal substances such as alcohol, cigarettes and sometimes caffeine. If a person practices straight edge they also refrain from casual sex.
Sounds like a parent's dream? Not so fast.
ORIGINS OF EDGE
Ian MacKaye, founder of Dischord Records in Washington D.C. and former frontman of the punk band Minor Threat, penned the song "Straight Edge" in 1980 which has inadvertently become an anthem for an entire movement.
"I've been fairly clear from the beginning," MacKaye says in a previous interview. "I'm the person who coined the phrase 'straight edge,' but I'm not the founder of the movement."
When asked if he had issues with the current evolution of the lifestyle, MacKaye shoots back.
"You have the five percent who are fundamentalists," he says. "And, within that five percent, you have even a smaller group that has a fascination with violence."
MacKaye continues: "Their issue is not sobriety. It's with violence. People with violence in the belly are in search of a trigger and way to get the violence out."
The outspoken musician is referring to the handful of militants who claim edge—called "hate edge"—where the straight-edge crews attack people for smoking or sometimes liken themselves as soldiers of sobriety.
"Unfortunately, for those violent fundamentalists out there, they've used the whole straight-edge concept to beat the crap out of somebody," MacKaye adds.
While local straight-edge crews like TDC vilify the militant subculture, they do mimic aspects of the fringe, which include tagging soldier-of-sobriety slogans like "KYS" or kill your system.
The mere act of forming a crew—or a group of like-minded friends who may or may not all be straight edge—is a conundrum because they advocate a strong sense of community yet willfully isolate its members from the mainstream.
In essence, they're politically correct gangs.
"Crews aren't a straight-edge problem anymore, it's a hardcore problem," insists Grant Mosley, bassist for the local melodic-hardcore band Glory of This.
Mosley, who has claimed edge since 2000 and is a practicing vegan, says he's seen his share of crews while touring throughout the country.
"You'll hear about straight-edge crews fighting at shows and when they're caught," he says, "they'll have pot on them which means they're really not straight edge."
The 20-year-old musician, who lost his father due to lung cancer and ultimately pledged to lead a poison-free lifestyle after his death, says that most crews are more bark than bite.
"On our last tour, the crews came out and some areas were worse than others," Mosley explains. "For the most part, you could keep the kids tame. However, fights would break out and it gets out of control at times."
The bassist says the threat is overstated.
"People may be blowing the problem up a little bit," he says. "It's definitely an issue and it's bad, but it's not as bad as people are making it out to be."
As far as the markings, X's were originally a form of identification for kids who weren't old enough to drink at all-ages hardcore shows that served alcohol. Straight-edge followers would mark their hands with an X to show solidarity.
The Milton-based musician says that few edge supporters sport the old-school X on the back of their hands. However, they do get tattoos.
"All of the straight-edge kids I know have tattoos," Mosley says, adding that he believes that straight edge is gaining popularity within our area. "When you claim edge, you do it with the mentality that it's something you'll do for the rest of your life. The idea of putting a straight-edge tattoo on you goes hand in hand with that philosophy."
Mosley, like a majority of the local kids who claim the straight-edge lifestyle, promotes open-minded discussions, the ethical treatment of animals as well as taking an active role in the music scene.
Of course, every bunch has its bad apples.
TILL DEATH CREW?
Local police say that TDC caused thousands of dollars in damages after they spray-painted graffiti on area businesses, homes and fences from January to March.
"This is a persistent problem and we are requesting assistance from the public in identifying the people responsible for this crime," says Chief John W. Mathis in the Pensacola Police's March 29 press release.
The offenders were caught, but that doesn't completely appease Pensacola Museum of Art's executive director Maria Butler.
"Downtown is starting to look good again and we're starting to comeback after the storm," explains Butler, who was hit twice in the past year with graffiti. "We're on the cusp of complete revitalization and something like this happens."
As the director of a non-profit museum, Butler says something as minor as tagging can put a serious strain on resources and money.
"Because we don't have the money to hire somebody to take care of it," she states, "my staff spent the entire day cleaning the museum and getting paint to cover it up."
Christopher Steeley, the 17-year-old ringleader of the straight-edge Till Death Crew, takes responsibility for a majority of the graffiti—however he claims that his group had nothing to do with the tags outside of the PMA and Quayside.
"A couple of the things we were charged for we had nothing to do with, but proving that in court is hard," Steeley says. "I've personally had someone write what I would write on the back of an art gallery, which is something I would never do because I'm an artist."
Steeley continues: "I already know that I'm going to get a lot of shit out of this—and possibly my whole life ruined—and I know that if I were in some other state they wouldn't be so harsh."
Butler, trying to turn a negative into a positive, offers the kids from the Till Death Crew a non-criminal alternative.
"If they're looking for an artistic opportunity, get them in here for classes," Butler quips. "If they want to create, we'll give them some space and some canvas and let them go to town."TDC XXXPOSED
There are always two sides to every story. Christopher Steeley, the 17-year-old ringleader of the straight-edge Till Death Crew (TDC), admits to orchestrating the string of graffiti, or tags, that littered Pensacola since January.
However, he doesn't claim responsibility for all of it.
Facing eight misdemeanors and one felony charge, Steeley—or Turtle as he's known to his family and friends—sets the record straight about his role in the tagging spree, what initially motivated him to claim straight edge and tries to demystify the misinformation swirling around about hardcore crews.
Menace to society? Think again.
IN: How did you get involved with straight edge and specifically with the Till Death Crew?
STEELEY: I made a promise to myself that I wasn't going to put things in my body that didn't need to be there. I just felt good knowing I could live healthy and have control over myself. I tried to surround myself with good friends and that's how TDC started. It halfway started as a joke, but we sort of stuck with it.
IN: Does TDC have a leader? Are all of the members of TDC straight edge?
STEELEY: TDC has no leader or anything like that. It was started almost as a joke, it's just a group of close friends. Not everyone in TDC is straight edge. I don't feel I have to put myself around only people who are just like me. Without diversity or unity, it would be splitting the hardcore scene into pieces.
IN: How long have you claimed edge—and did anything in your past inspire you to lead a poison-free lifestyle?
STEELEY: Younger in life, really early age, around 11 or so. I had experimented with drugs, alcohol—the whole nine yards—and I had even gotten to a point where I would call it addiction. I tried a few times to straighten up and drop the shit but it's not just something you do. It takes time. However, I had a cousin who meant a lot to me. He was like my best friend and one of my only true friends when I was a little kid. He had cancer and was slowly dying from it. I was talking to him one time and he told me how he saw me as better than that, and I didn't need to be ruining my life. I made a promise to him I wouldn't go down that path.
IN: Why did the group opt for 'Till' instead of ''Til' when naming the crew?
STEELEY: I just though it would be funny to misspell the word.
IN: In the police reports, it's said that most of you guys met either at shows or on MySpace. How did you all meet?
STEELEY: I had met all of them either at shows or I went to school with them. It's simple really.
One straight-edge follower I interviewed said that 'crews aren't a
straight-edge problem anymore, it's a hardcore problem.' Would you
STEELEY: Crews aren't a problem. Most crews, well, in the past, would be at shows together, sometimes handing out things or helping run the show, and during the show they would try to keep it positive and keep fights from happening. But some groups of people like to be assholes, but you get that everywhere you go.
IN: As far as the tagging, not all crews tag. What inspired your group to go in that direction?
STEELEY: It wasn't a group thing. I personally confessed to it, mainly to keep everyone else out of harsher punishment. So, now I'm almost viewed as a leader, but I would rather me take it hard, than them take it hard, because I care about them more than myself. It was such a silly charge, but Florida likes to blow things out of the water. But the whole tagging thing, yes, there were tags, but, a lot of the ones we did covered something negative. If you look around the city closely there are a lot of racist and hateful things written on walls, I couldn't help but write over it.
IN: Was TDC responsible for all of the graffiti listed in the police reports?
STEELEY: A couple of the things we were charged for we had nothing to do with, but proving that in court is hard. I've personally had someone write what I would write on the back of an art gallery, which is something I would never do because I'm an artist. But because they copied me well enough, I can't prove otherwise, and, well, they say 'innocent until proven guilty' but it's more like guilty until you're proven innocent.
There have been reports of violence associated with straight-edge
crews—including crews beating up rival kids at shows or attacking
people who smoke. What are your thoughts about that?
STEELEY: Excuse my profanity but 'fuck that.' There are groups I've heard about who are violent—and it's ridiculous. I personally feel that the militant straight-edge crews ruin hardcore more than anything. They ruin the whole unity factor that so many of us try to keep.
IN: In some cases, straight-edge crews have been categorized as politically correct gangs. Do you think that's going too far?
STEELEY: By how they define gangs, I guess you could say it is by definition. But, then again, so is a group of co-workers in an office. I feel it's in no way violent usually. A lot of crews try to promote positive things. Even though you may not mean it in the way as most gangs are considered, the common citizen won't take the time to know the difference.
IN: In hindsight, do you regret posting the TDC graffiti photo on your MySpace page?
STEELEY: I never put any photos of graffiti on my MySpace page. I peed on my friend's fence and we took a picture, but that was it. I didn't know peeing on a friend's fence was graffiti.
IN: Is TDC still together?
STEELEY: Yeah, we will always be. We're best friends. We're family to each other. We're all like brothers and sisters.
IN: Anything else?
STEELEY: You can directly quote me on this but I think Florida, and Escambia County especially, takes things too far. I already know that I'm going to get a lot of shit out of this—and possibly my whole life ruined—and I know that if I were in some other state they wouldn't be so harsh.
The following Till Death Crew (TDC) members were arrested on criminal mischief charges:x Corey Delacruz, 17. Charged with five misdemeanors and one felony.
The 10 "TDC" graffiti incidents occurred between January and March 27 at the following locations:
x Bayview Community Center, 2000 E. Lloyd St.
x Cordova Crossing Shopping Center, 5010 Bayou Blvd.
x The Locker Room Store, 1380 Dunmire St.
x Moulton Properties, 25 W. Cedar St., 1200 E. Gonzalez St. and 1108 N. 12th Ave.
x Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
x Spanish Trail fence, 5900 Limestone Rd.
x Target, 4711 Bayou Blvd.
x Quayside Gallery, 17 E. Zaragoza St.