BY LIZ FABIAN
On the day rapper Jeezy's "Where I'm From" video hit last week, Lt. Chuck Whittaker's cell phone blew up.
The Bibb County sheriff's investigator was off that day, but it didn't stop the calls from coming in about the music video featuring Macon gangs.
"It's not against the law to be in a gang, but it's against the law to do a criminal act in a gang," Whittaker said while watching the video in his office.
Warning: This video contains language and content that may be offensive to some viewers.
The neighborhood scenes and many of the people are familiar to Whittaker, who has worn a badge for 28 years, including time on the former Macon Police Department's gang unit in the 1990s.
While he reviewed the video again, several other investigators gathered in his office.
Their varied ages and tenures meld into a range of experience and knowledge about Macon's gang underbelly.
Some of the deputies had worked security for other Jeezy videos filmed in Macon near where the rapper grew up as little Jay Wayne Jenkins more than three decades ago.
Initially known as Young Jeezy, the 38-year-old recording artist appeared on "The Late Late Show" early Tuesday and explained to host James Corden why he dropped the first half of his moniker.
"When you evolve as a human being, you've always got to drop the 'Young.' You know what I'm sayin'?" he asked Corden. "When you evolve as a man, you've got to drop the 'Young.'"
He appeared on the show to promote his new album, "Church in These Streets," which was released last Friday.
"Where I'm From," the song in the latest video, is not on that collection. It was part of "Politically Correct," an Extended Play CD that came out last month for the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March.
Whittaker wasn't the only one getting inquiries when the video came out.
Jessica Walden, whose family's music heritage includes managing Otis Redding and The Allman Brothers Band, said friends kept asking her opinion about the scenes from Unionville, south Macon and Duncan Avenue, near where her father grew up.
After spending years with the College Hill Alliance to enhance the quality of life and spur development around Mercer University, she said she was disturbed by the images captured just across Interstate 75 from the university.
Her opinion softened, somewhat, after giving it a little more thought.
"That's his artistic interpretation of Macon because he is an artist, a hip-hop artist," Walden said. "When I look at it from that perspective, I wasn't as angry."
Some of her friends took away a tone of despair from the video and its opening scene of a thin pit bull barking from behind a chain-link fence.
At least there are no "nude women" or ladies being exploited, she said.
She may not like the perception it portrays, but she accepts Jeezy's right to express his view of his hometown.
When country crooner Jason Aldean filmed a video in tribute to his Macon roots, he told the story based on his experiences at Windsor Academy.
"Jason Aldean's direction was to wear flannel and cowboy boots in the shoot. (Jeezy's) direction, wear red and be in these places," she said.
Although the video ends with "Directed by Jeezy," he does not appear in the video and investigators believe it might have been produced by an independent company from Macon.
Attempts to reach Jeezy for comment for this report were unsuccessful.
Another local rapper known to authorities finishes out the piece.
"We're Macon Chit man. Got all my homies here, man, 9-12 we're moving, man. Shouts out to Young for (expletive) giving us the opportunity to let the whole world watch, you know what I'm saying, to see what we've got going on, man."
While watching the video at Whittaker's office, one of the deputies noted: "Yes, that is marijuana they are smoking."
The video gives a nod to numerous cases and gang members the detectives are familiar with.
A Bentley & Sons memorial quilt shows the likeness of Monnie Joseph Brabham IV, who was killed in a shooting at a Booth Road gas station in Warner Robins in January 2014.
Unionville graffiti references Damion Bernard "Little Petey" Clayton, who was killed on the Macon Little League field off Anthony Road in February 2014.
"Nothing they're saying is anything we don't know," Whittaker said.
With all the officers viewing the scenes, they can pretty much identify all the people shown. Some of those pictured are not active gang members.
The pictures are misleading as to the number of people regularly congregating at local stores or on street corners, they said.
Lt. Shermaine Jones believes many of them were motivated to be in the shoot because they long for celebrity.
"It's their chance to get their face out there to somebody's who's got stardom," Jones said. "It's their 15 seconds of fame."
Those who fight to keep gangs at bay say the video will help them.
If anyone shown in the video is arrested, it can be shown in court as evidence of gang activity, which can lengthen the sentence when convicted.
That might deter others, Whittaker said.
"It means a lot when they get put away with the gang charge because the younger kids see it," he said.
Walden also thinks the video could help spur more development on the other side of I-75, where work has already begun on the old Miller High School, which was shown in the video.
"To me it demonstrates more the need to take the College Hill lesson and jump the bridge," she said.
Valerie Bradley, communications director for the Macon-Bibb County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said potential visitors have not raised concerns about the video.
"We have not had any inquiries about it or any push back about it," Bradley said.
She hopes it will not be widely seen by those planning trips or conventions.
Walden, who also founded Rock Candy Tours which features a stroll of music highlights in Macon, will likely not be adding the Jeezy video hot spots to her tour.
Ironically, she has considered adding a leg in the streets around Duncan Avenue to show her father's old neighborhood and where Otis Redding's family once lived.
"We can't take ourselves too seriously about a music video," she said. "We never know where the next star from Macon is coming from, and what is the story they're going to tell?"
To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303 and follow her on Twitter@liz_lines.
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Jeezy's 'Where I'm From' video highlights Macon gangs
Wednesday, November 18, 2015 11:27 AM
BY LIZ FABIAN