The Tay-K saga is a tall, meaty lasagna, and to go into granular detail on it would be as exhausting as explaining to your parents who Tay-K even is. So in the interest of brevity, I'm going to pretend you, the reader, are my mother (a 56-year-old woman who listens to bluegrass and has a PhD from Liberty University) and break it down:
Tay-K, whose real name is Taymor Travon McIntyre, is a rapper from Arlington. On New Year's Eve 2016 in Denton, he was in an SUV with a passenger who shot a 20-year-old sorority girl in front of her boyfriend while at an intersection. Tay-K didn’t face any charges for this, but the assailant, Eric Johnson, was convicted on capital murder charges.
On July 26, 2016, in Mansfield, Tay-K participated in a home invasion with a few friends. One of the culprits shot resident Ethan Walker in the stomach and his roommate Zachary Beloate in the shoulder. The former later died from the injury. Tay-K and other participants of the robbery were arrested on capital murder charges.
In the days leading up to certification hearings, Tay-K was on house arrest but cut off his ankle bracelet and fled to San Antonio. While in San Antonio, he was in an SUV at a Chick-fil-A parking lot, where 23-year-old Mark Anthony Saldivar was shot and killed. Tay-K faced a second capital murder charge for this.
While a fugitive, Tay-K fled to Elizabeth, New Jersey, in June 2017, where he recorded songs and shot a music video. One of these songs was a viral hit titled “The Race,” which made its way on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. People were fascinated at the fact that the song was recorded while he was on the run from authorities.
That same month, U.S. marshals apprehended him and held him in a New Jersey penitentiary. He later got transferred to Tarrant County jail. His viral omnipresence prompted the Twitter hashtag “#FreeTayK”.
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Turns out, the rapper is also alleged to have beaten a 65-year-old Arlington resident named Skip Pepe after attempting to rob him. So you can add aggravated robbery to the list accusations.
While in jail, Tay-K had a cellphone stashed in his sock, so he got transferred to the maximum-security Tarrant County Lon Evans Correction Center in Fort Worth, spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement and faced a charge for possession of a prohibited item while in jail.
On July 16, the Star-Telegram reported that Tay-K pleaded guilty to two charges of aggravated robbery but not guilty to capital murder charges.
On Friday, Tay-K was sentenced to 55 years in prison for the role in Walker’s death. In addition, he was fined $21,000 and still has to serve a 30-year sentence for aggravated robbery and two additional 13-year prison sentences for other instances of aggravated robbery (that’s an aggregated 111 years). He is still facing another capital murder charge for the death of Saldivar, and a lawsuit from Pepe.
In light of this news, #FreeTayK started trending again. Some have used it in jest, while others have sincerely advocated for his complete exoneration. Many scoff at this campaign and think that it’s only viral because people like his music, but it goes much deeper than that.
Even if you don’t know Tay-K from Adam, one must concede that it's intriguing and, in a way, hilarious that he managed to record an entire body of work while there was a bounty for him. Can you honestly fault someone for being allured by that? Are we truly above the strange exhibitionism that compels people to root for the villain?
Did the audience not root for Clint Eastwood’s character in A Fistful of Dollars? What about that scene in The Godfather in which Al Pacino’s character kills a cop in a restaurant? Scarface served as a cautionary tale on the excesses of greed and scathingly criticized the American dream, and even with Pacino playing a violent misogynist people idolized Tony Montana.
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Unlike these works of fiction, however, Tay-K is real. The victims he left in his wake are real. The pain and grief that the families of Walker and Saldivar have encountered are real. And given the unusual spectacle that is Tay-K’s history, it’s easy for people to see him as an antihero while being completely detached from the gravity that these crimes have had on others.
So at the end of the day, should we be hoping for Tay-K’s release? Obviously not; nobody needs an 800-word think piece on why criminals who commit serial violence should be punished. But self-scrutiny is due for those who are quick to judge the #FreeTayK campaign. This hashtag may be an affront to the most elementary principles that make a civilized society, but to varying degrees, we all root for criminals.
Sure, Tay-K committed armed robbery. But so did Merle Haggard. Tay-K possibly committed murder, but so did Sid Vicious. You think escaping house arrest and committing more violent crimes is bad? Lead Belly escaped a chain gang and killed one of his relatives afterward, and if you think people didn’t cheer for his clemency, Texas Gov. Pat Morris Neff pardoned him seven years after the crime because he wrote a song about him.
Tay-K may deserve incarceration, but some criminal acts are perceived with morbid fascination. That says more about our culture and human nature than it does about “#FreeTayK”.