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What's the future for Moechella? DC movement grapples with shooting death and opposition

Moechella Founder Yaddiya speaks with WUSA9 about the legal dance the group finds itself in with Coachella and what it could mean for the organization's name.

WASHINGTON — D.C.’s Moechella movement found its genesis in the heart of social unrest after the death of George Floyd. The demonstrations provided activists, volunteers and the disaffected a safe space to address frustration about the intensity of D.C.'s gentrification, scrutiny over Go-Go music and rising gun violence.

Moechella Founder Justin Johnson, who goes by "Yaddiya," said he always wanted to establish a narrative of peace within the movement. 

"That is what Moechella is built on -- the foundation of peace, unity, building culture and having your voice heard,” Yaddiya said. 

Three years of good fortune turned upside down after a Juneteenth celebration in Northwest at the corner of 14th and U Streets, when 15-year-old Chase Poole was killed during the festival. DC Police said a male suspect shot into the crowd killing Poole and injuring others. That suspect is still on the loose.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragedy that continues to impact the whole community," Johnson said. "At the end of the day, we have to understand that this is all a product of gun violence which is reaching heights that we've never seen before. Post the incident, we are definitely more overtly expressing our stand against gun violence.” 

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D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and MPD criticized the festival, calling it an "unpermitted event." Attendees, however, told WUSA9 city officials were not only aware of the festival, but members of the administration publicized the event and provided resources.

“How it is unpermitted if it’s happening?” asked Johnson. “We've had hundreds of these demonstrations, under the first amendment.”

Photos from the Juneteenth festival and those from at least three prior festivals show MPD officers present along with dump trucks blocking roads surrounding the events. These city resources are consistent with other large-scale permitted events that occur throughout the city. 

“I say the proof is in the pudding,” Johnson said when asked if the city knew about the Juneteenth event beforehand.  

Bowser’s office did not respond to our request for comment when we reached out. 

The shooting also created another problem for Moechella. Lawyers for the popular Coachella music festival in California filed a notice of opposition to Moechella's trademark application. Lawyers claimed the name "Moechella" is closely related to "Coachella" and infringes on its trademark. Coachella attorneys also cited the Juneteenth shooting as another reason to deny Moechella's application. 

"The negative publicity generated by applicant's Moechella event reflects negatively on opposer," said lawyers for Coachella.

The law firm representing Coachella did not respond to WUSA9's request for comment.

"The name Moechella came about as a juxtaposition and parody of the major pop festivals, specifically Coachella, which have become party grounds for the rich and famous, unaffordable for the average Washington, D.C. resident," Nick Kelly, legal counsel for Johnson, said. "Moechella has always been free, using music to advocate for the issues facing the people of Washington, D.C." 

In spite of the recent rough waters, Johnson is confident the future of Moechella is bright. The focus now is on helping to address gun violence and continue the advocate for those that call D.C. home. 

"Like they say, man plans, gods laughs," Johnson said. "I never had any expectation on where it would go. And the same time, I see what it means and I have to move accordingly." 


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