As a mayoral candidate in 2005, Senate hopeful John Fetterman adopted a unique tactic to appeal to the youth of Braddock, Pa.: tout the borough’s connections to the notorious Crips street gang. After his election, he downplayed the gang’s prevalence in his town, and attributed some of their gang activity to the acts of "disenfranchised" and "disenchanted" youth.
During his first mayoral run in 2005, Fetterman adopted the slogan "Vote John Mayor of Braddocc," a nod to the spelling that local Crips gang members used for the town. After he was elected, Fetterman created the website Braddocc.com as part of a revitalization project to appeal to young people in the dilapidated steel town. The now-defunct website, which Fetterman launched with his own money, explains that "Braddocc" was "unofficially renamed" by the "young and disenfranchised for its Crip allegiance." The Justice Department considers the Crips, founded in southern California in the 1970s, to be one of the country’s most violent street gangs.
Fetterman, the Pennsylvania lieutenant governor, has come under fire during his Senate bid for his progressive views on criminal justice reform. Republicans have portrayed Fetterman as soft on crime for calling for the release of up to one-third of Pennsylvania’s prison inmates. As chairman of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons, Fetterman cast the lone vote to free several people convicted of first-degree murder. His appointee for secretary of the board has called to "disarm the police," and has referred to cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal as her "friend" and "buddy," the Washington Free Beacon reported.
Fetterman has denied that he glorifies the Crips or gang culture, though he has acknowledged that his embrace of the "Braddocc" nickname helped him in his 2005 campaign by attracting younger voters.
"Ultimately I carry their flag, because they’re the ones that made the difference that I won by one vote that first election," he said in 2015. "It’s not a glorification of gang violence, or embracing gang violence," he added of the "Braddocc" moniker, noting that he "caught some flak ... because some people thought I was spelling it like a gangster."
While Fetterman promoted Crips lingo, he downplayed the gang’s presence in Braddock after his election win. In 2006, he said gang graffiti that appeared on buildings in the borough were the act of "a disenfranchised young person who is disaffected 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. One shouldn't make the erroneous assumption that it's some kind of movement, some kind of criminal element," he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2006.
Fetterman said punishing the teens behind the graffiti was not an ideal remedy and that the graffiti "appears more fearsome than it is."
But Crips were active in Braddock during Fetterman’s tenure as mayor.
Members of the gang appeared in a video from the late-2000s discussing their life in Braddock, promoting their music with the Braddock-based "Geto Bred Entertainment," and warning rivals against "snitching" to police. The video, which also employs the "Braddocc" moniker, shows gang members rapping in front of graffiti that bears the "C’z Up" and "Ghuttacide" tags that Fetterman discussed with the Post-Gazette.
Fetterman's campaign denies that Fetterman has any affinity for the Crips.
"The notion that John Fetterman has any affinity for the crips is complete and utter bullshit," Fetterman's communications director Joe Calvello told the Free Beacon. "Under John, crips in Braddock were taken off the street and put in jail."
Fetterman’s nod to the Crips can still be found at his loft in Braddock, where a city sign emblazoned with the gang’s graffiti hangs above his refrigerator. The New York Times photographed Fetterman in front of the sign for a 2011 profile. Fetterman’s wife posted a photo to social media in 2020 with the sign in the background.