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Discretion in the Criminal Justice System

      Discretion is arguably the most important tool in a criminal justice professional’s arsenal. Without it, we would be robots. Even the ...

The Execution of Bayside Rapper Willie Bo by Police in Shooting

Police shootings are the ultimate act of terrorism in our country. It’s both terrifying and shocking when the realization that the very people that you should trust with unwavering confidence can be the very people that contribute to your demise. The problem in America with police shootings has escalated even to our past-times, with some key sports figures even being blacklisted for attempting protest and a Colorado sports retail store having to close its doors after boycotting Nike. (CNN) If the problem has not reached everyone’s homes yet, they simply are not paying attention. So, what’s causing these many racially charged shootings? Racism obviously rears its nasty head, but Social Disorganization Theory also has an avid role in the way neighborhoods and cities function. In areas where there is a high rate of crime, police may be quicker to pull the trigger versus areas that are socially organized. Willie McCoy was a young, up-and-coming rapper living in the Bay Area when he was executed by policemen in a Taco Bell drive-thru while waking from a slumber in his car. In his lap sat a questionable handgun and officers claimed he had reached for it. Regardless of the circumstances, Social Disorganization played a key factor in how Willie “Bo” McCoy ended up in that Taco Bell drive-thru with a pistol in his lap and over twenty bullets lodged in his head, body, and vehicle.

            Social Disorganization Theory essentially means that the lower quality of living a community faces has a direct influence on the crime in said area. Of course, this is merely a small part of the theory, as there have been a multitude of studies on this subject and our understanding of our communities has progressed exponentially. People say that we are products of our environment, and it’s true. A man named Chris Wilson grew up in what his prison psychologist described as a “combat zone,” because of the amount of firefights and gunfire that transpired daily and nightly in Mr. Wilson’s neighborhood growing up. Combat is a harsh term, only to be used in the most stressful of circumstances, and Mr. Wilson’s childhood was unfortunately best summarized by that soulless, malignant word. In an article by CNN Money regarding the challenges in his community that he overcame to be the incredible businessman he is today, they state that, “He was just a teen when he witnessed his mother being raped and beaten by a police officer she was dating. Then, at 16, he was kidnapped at gunpoint. After he was freed, he recalls his mother and family laughing at him for being kidnapped, especially because he had been carrying a gun.” (CNN) This would be traumatic for any person, let alone a juvenile. Then, after being kidnapped at gunpoint and somehow safely returning to his family, the kid is met with his family putting him at the brunt of a joke. “"There was no compassion," said Wilson, who credits therapy with helping him become who he is today. "That moment made me colder. It put me in a dark state." He vowed to never let it happen again -- which ultimately led to his crime and prison sentence.” (CNN)

            Chris Wilson hails from Washington D.C., where he first started carrying a gun at the age of fourteen years old and ended up using it at seventeen. He eventually was given a life sentence for first-degree murder. (Washington's Top News) It was here in prison that he decided to change his life, and now owns multiple successful businesses, but what made him deviant in the first place?

            Social Disorganization, at its core, means that people are the products of their environment. After a few generations of this, the environment starts becoming a product of them. The environment can start to take on the portrayal of the community afflicted and crime rates may climb astronomically compared to other areas. In a study conducted by The University of Sao Paulo Medical School in Brazil and The Department of Sociology from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, researchers “…identified four distinct trajectory groups among 157 large US cities and found that social disadvantage and social disorganization are associated with a higher homicide trajectory group.” (Peres & Nivette, 2017, Social Science and Medicine, 92-100) The study mainly conducted research at the city levels, and while conducting their research found that “When…mechanisms of social control are weakened, residents in disadvantaged neighborhoods must rely on illegal and violent forms of conflict resolution, which would explain to some extent the unequal growth of crime and violence.” (Peres & Nivette, 2017, Social Science and Medicine, 92-100) This is the same thing we find in certain U.S. cities and neighborhoods with higher than average crime rates. Poor familial structure, corrupt police forces, and high rates of at-risk youth can all be found in Socially Disorganized locales. Once the pattern has started, it is extremely hard for the community to band together and start the process of repair.

            In the early morning hours of February 9th, 2019, Willie McCoy, a young, aspiring rapper, was shot to death in a Taco Bell drive-thru. Willie Bo (his rapper name) was only twenty-one years old at the time, and according to friends and family, had been exhausted from the studio recording hours he was putting in. Police found him asleep and seemingly unresponsive (they did not attempt to awaken the young man as they claimed there was a handgun in his lap. Once the officers spotted the hand-gun, they called additional units until around seven patrol cars were on scene, blocking Willie Bo’s car inside of the drive-thru. Police state that next, “…McCoy abruptly moved and officers ordered him to keep his hands visible, but he reached for his gun and officers opened fire.” (CBS Sacramento)

            The only people that know exactly what happened that morning are the officers that responded and Willie Bo, and unfortunately, the dead cannot give testimony. This means that everything that we know about the story must come directly from the officers involved, and officers can say that in the final moments before Willie Bo was executed, he could have done anything. Whether Willie Bo reached for a weapon in his lap directly after waking up or not can be debated, but what led the young rapper to even have a stolen gun in his lap is the real question. What sort of life had transpired for the man to make him carry a weapon directly in his lap and immediately reach for it upon waking up to a fleet of patrol vehicles outside of his car as police say he did? Where did the stolen weapon come from? It was claimed stolen out of Oregon but was only tied to Willie Bo because he had possession of it. Previous to the execution, Willie Bo had been on tour with his rap group, FBG who possibly could have toured through Oregon where an opportunity to steal the .40 caliber, semiautomatic handgun. A preliminary investigation did find the weapon loaded, but again, only the police officers and Willie Bo know what truly transpired before he was mercilessly shot at over twenty times. (NBC)

            Vallejo, California is a very diverse suburb, with a crime rating of “F” by the Areavibes website, which goes to state that “When it comes to violent crimes, Vallejo, CA shows a crime rate that is 91% higher than the California average. The crime rate is also 124% higher than the national average. When it comes to property crimes, Vallejo, CA is shown to be 51% higher than the California average and 59% higher than the national average.” (AreaVibes) This means that there is a very high crime rate and a very high chance of being a victim of a crime. One in twenty-two to be concise. (AreaVibes) Does this give someone the excuse to carry an illegal weapon though? Of course, if the weapon was legal. Not much would be argued about the validity of its possession by the owner and would have most likely became the focal point for the prosecutor’s case against the officer’s involved in the shooting, if charges were brought in the aftermath. The fact that the weapon was stolen out of Oregon, and had an extended magazine seated in the magazine well, is most likely the only basis for the cops getting away from this scot-free. So, what led Willie Bo to this final moment in his life, where he has a stolen weapon in his lap and surrounded by police?

            Social Disorganization can come from a multitude of factors. Incomplete familial structure and delinquent peers can lead to the demise of a juvenile’s morals just as quickly as growing up surrounded by vagrancy can. All of this, paired with officers who are in higher crime rates than other areas, may be more ready to end a life than other officers. The Vallejo Police Department has an abysmal record when it comes to preserving life in their community. In an article from the website KQED, Vallejo Police Officers shot and killed six people in the year 2012 alone. (KQED) The article goes on to state that “Those half-dozen deadly incidents, occurring in one year in a city of fewer than 120,000 people, gave Vallejo a rate of fatal police-involved shootings dozens of times greater than the national average. The killings have prompted a stream of civil rights and wrongful death lawsuits against the city and its police department.” (KQED) What can be interpreted from this information is that there is something seriously wrong with the way that these officers are conducting their daily business. Just one deadly shooting is one too many. When an officer kills a person, he is directly hurting someone in the community he was sworn to protect.

            Criminals exist, and should be treated as such, and sometimes deadly force is unavoidable, but why does this community have such a staggering amount of violence on both sides of the law? In the book Police Use of Excessive Force in Disorganized Neighborhoods: A Social Disorganization Perspective, Zachary Hayes states that “Increased crime rates might not be the only negative consequence of disorganization, though. In the same way the social disorganization signals to criminals that they will be able to get away with criminal activities (because residents lack the social ties and/or collective efficacy to stop them), it may also signal to police officers that they will be able to get away with the use of excessive force.” (Hayes, 2011, Police Use of Excessive Force in  Disorganized Neighborhoods : A Social Disorganization Perspective) This means that police in these neighborhoods may be more likely to kill a civilian than police in organized neighborhoods. This is most likely the reason for Vallejo Police Department’s repertoire for misconduct.

            A man was shot at over twenty times in a Taco Bell drive-thru while he slept in his car. This situation could have ended completely differently, and the officers involved had extremely difficult decisions to make. The important thing is understanding how the entire situation came to be. For some reason, Willie Bo felt that he needed to have a gun in his lap for protection. He didn’t have a criminal record, so it’s more likely that he was protecting himself rather than trying to commit a crime. With the rap-sheet of the Vallejo Police Department, it’s also possible that he felt that he needed protection from them. The Social Disorganization of Vallejo and Willie Bo’s life caused that weapon to be on his lap that night that he fell asleep in a Taco Bell drive-thru, ultimately costing him his life. Of course, this is trusting that the weapon did come from Willie Bo and not the Vallejo Police Department’s evidence room.

Works Cited

Almasy, S., & Alsup, D. (2019, February 15). Colorado store that boycotted Nike after Colin Kaepernick ad will close. Retrieved  from CNN:

AreaVibes, Inc. (2017). Vallejo, CA. Retrieved  from AreaVibes:

CBS Sacramento. (2019, February 11). Man Killed By  Police In Vallejo Identified As Local Rapper Willie Bo. Retrieved from CBS  Sacramento:
Emslie, A. (2014, May 20). Questions Surround  Surge in Vallejo Police Shootings. Retrieved from KQED News:

Hayes, Z. (2011). Police Use of Excessive Force in  Disorganized Neighborhoods : A Social Disorganization Perspective.  ProQuest Ebook Central: LFP Scholarly Publishing.

Nania, R. (2019, February 13). From life in prison  to published author: DC native pens ‘Master Plan’. Retrieved from  Washington's Top News:

O'Brien, S. A. (2016, June 7). From life sentence  to White House guest: one ex-con's journey. Retrieved from CNN Business:

Ortiz, E. (2019, February 13). California rapper  sleeping in car killed by police who opened fire. Retrieved from NBC News:

Peres, M. F., & Nivette, A. (2017). Social  disorganization and homicide mortality rate trajectories in Brazil between  1991 and 2010. Social Science and Medicine, 92-100. Photo by FOTEROS from Pexels