Detroit News reporter Robert Snell spent more than a year investigating Detroit’s gang wars and the Justice Department’s attempts to topple the Seven Mile Bloods. The newspaper publishes the first of eight chapters in the “Death by Instagram” series. Federal prosecutors are piecing together a rare death penalty prosecution against members of a notorious Detroit gang blamed for terrorizing neighbors, fueling the opioid epidemic and assassinating rivals targeted on Instagram hit lists. The indictment of 21 alleged members and associates marks a crackdown on the close-knit Seven Mile Bloods (SMB), which prosecutors hope to dismantle by using their own rap videos and social media against them.
The charges have not ended the violence. Three recent homicides and the shooting of rapper Phillip Peaks suggest the years-long FBI investigation has not quelled an ongoing war among east-side gangs. The violence threatens to unravel progress reducing murders on the east side of Detroit, particularly on turf controlled by what prosecutors consider the strongest gang in one of the deadliest parts of the most violent U.S. city. Since 2003, prosecutors say gang members targeted for death dozens of rivals on Instagram hit lists, participated in more than 14 shootings, at least four homicides, 11 attempted murders and drug crimes that eroded the quality of life on the gang’s home turf, known by locals as The Red Zone. “The SMB made The Red Zone into a war zone,” says U.S. Department of Justice prosecutor Julie Finocchiaro.