TW: Racism, Police Brutality, Violence, Terrorism
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in ignorant bliss (in which case I am very jealous), then you know about the events that rocked Washington DC. Trump lovers, Klansmen, Blue Lives Matters supporters, and anti-maskers/QAnon (yes, apparently they’re all different????) joined forces to protest… Well… I’m not exactly sure what they were protesting. Was it the Georgia election? Do they even know what they were protesting? Was that even protesting when you’re just asking the government to overturn democracy? Okay, whatever. Either way, they gathered together in their maskless glory, donning American flags and other obnoxious costumes, to storm the Capitol building. Well, not exactly storm, seeing as there wasn’t a whole lot of force used. Instead, they just kinda meandered in, with no real hurry and no fear of repercussions. It really makes you wonder where all of those tanks and guns were when we were faced to face with them during the Black Lives Matter protests. Wait, there was no National Guard either?! Wow. Maybe it’s because there was no real cause for protesting, whereas we were fighting for racial injustices and police brutality; two very present issues that go hand in hand. Apparently, trying to keep your Black friends safe is more dangerous than being an angry and fucking idiotic white supremacist who didn’t get their way. And yes, you had your token minorities, as you always do. But let’s be honest, because this country has completely given up on trying to hide this fact. White people can get away with 10x worse than Black and Brown people. These people got away with bringing BOMBS into the Capitol building! Whereas my family and I can’t even go into airports without being randomly selected, because clearly, I’m hiding something in my shoe. As a result, I’ve decided to talk about the police and the very different ways that they treat Black and white people. In hip-hop lyrics, of course.
I would like to disclose that this post is about the lyrics specifically because I cannot understand how it feels to live as a Black person in the United States. As I’ve mentioned in Did They Ask You Where You’re From, while I have faced cruelty and discrimination based on my skin tone, it does not equate to what Black people go through. I will never be able to relate to that constant fear of trying to do mundane activities, like jogging or buying snacks. I still have my own degree of privilege, and I will always acknowledge that. If you would like to discuss this further, feel free to leave a comment or send me a private message. I’m always open to conversing and learning.
One contributor to police brutality is racial profiling. Unfortunately, a lot of innocent lives have been taken by jumping to conclusions, whether because a person felt unsafe in the presence of another or because cops assumed that the person was doing something suspicious. Either way, a factor of those assumptions is negative stereotypes and misconceptions. For decades, Black people have been portrayed as villainous, when in reality, they have been disregarded, judged, discriminated against, and given far fewer opportunities than others. Hell, even Ice Cube knew he was having a good day when he “saw the police and they rolled right past [him]”. That sense of relief is justified, especially considering at the time, there were no bodycams. Quavo and Offset shine a light on the idea that no matter what you’re doing, whether it’s something illegal or something innocent, you’ll have a target on your back. And a lot of times, that bodycam footage STILL isn’t enough. In the track, “FUCK 12”, they question a cop’s behavior, asking, “you shot him cause you thought he had a gun or he black? You better watch out for the boys when you’re black”. We have seen so many videos of white people getting violent and aggressive towards cops and civilians, with no fear while wielding their weapons. But then there are videos of Black men at traffic stops, reaching for their IDs as requested by the cops, just to be killed. In Tupac’s “Souljah’s Revenge”, he paints police as the biggest gang in the city, commenting on how they “pull [him] over, check [his] plates, but [he’s] legal/[they’re] on [his] back, just cause [he’s] Black”. We’ve seen instances of cops searching for a reason to arrest Black people, escalating the situation, and then claiming self-defense when a person rightfully gets upset. Too $hort tells the story of trying to make an honest life for himself in “I Want To Be Free”. The track discusses how difficult systematic racism makes it to prosper, exclaiming that, “he’s a Black man, but [he runs his] own business, so why the police wanna send [him] to prison? They see a brother makin’ major cash, they knock a patch out his Black ass”. By locking him up, any sort of progress and growth that he’s demonstrated is neglected and reversed, knocking him back into a life of struggling. Similarly, in J Cole’s “Neighbors”, he raps about feeling paranoid as someone who’s “Black in a white man territory. Cops bust in with the army guns, no evidence of the harm we done. Just a couple of neighbors that assume [they] slang”. No matter what you try to do, cops will always paint you in a negative light to seem like the good guys and to defend their actions. For instance, Breonna Taylor was a healthcare professional sleeping in her bed, and yet somehow, she and her boyfriend were still in the wrong.
Society has spent so much time painting rappers as thugs and criminals. While gangster rap uses heavy beats and aggressive flows to command a sense of respect, not every hip-hop song is like that. And yet, that’s what it has been generalized to be. Music is an extension of a person’s thoughts, and we see that when, rather than taking a strong, empowering stance on police, such as N.W.A’s “Fuck The Police”, artists show a different side of their feelings towards cops and being racially profiled: fear. It’s a huge concern when the general feelings towards those being paid to protect the country and its people are anger and panic. When, rather than feeling relief when they arrive on the scene to help a young Black man enduring a mental breakdown, there is chaos and distrust. When they are trigger happy, and more willing to attack than diffuse a situation, especially because they are unfit to do so. In Thundercat’s “Jameel’s Space Ride”, he ponders on the idea that [he wants] to go right, [since he’s] safe on [his] block, except for the cops”, viewing the cops as a sign of danger. Imagining feeling unsafe in your own community because of the constant lingering presence of police. Master P’s “Black and White” comments on the issue of bringing children into a racist world and teaching them to be on their best behavior despite discrimination because of the stigma already against them. The idea that their character is already pre-determined, simply because of the close-minded biases of those around them. He outlines a scenario in which a cop uses intimidation against an innocent man, exclaiming that “[he wasn’t] speeding but [he’s] gonna give [him] a ticket cause [he’s] a n*“. Whether you’re guilty or not, the cops have the power and authority to choose the outcome, even without a fair trial. In “Veni Vidi Vici”, Nas expresses his fear that “cops was gonna kick [his] apartment door in”. Unfortunately, we’ve learned that this fear is completely realistic, as we’ve seen it happen just in the last year.
Unfortunately, even expressing fear and discomfort isn’t enough. When Ashli Babbitt was killed, details of her violent past came to light. And yet, Donald Trump supporters all over criticized outlets for digging into her life when she had just died. Ironically enough, these are the same people who brought up George Floyd’s past. And Trayvon Martin’s past. And Walter Wallace Jr.’s past. Half of the time, they were spewing rumors, with absolutely no factual evidence. But they just had to be doing something wrong. Because apparently, white is what’s right. Now, that is just one small piece of evidence of the double standard at play here. Nas’s “Cops Shot The Kid” covers just about every shitty aspect of police brutality, from targeting young kids to accusing innocent people of crimes they didn’t commit. Nas explains the difference in police encounters when he rapped that “white kids are brought in alive, Black kids get hit with like five.” I protested at the same Capitol building in June for Black Lives Matter. We were face to face with the national guard. Best believe if we took one fucking wrong step, they would not have hesitated to shoot us down. Now, fast forward to January. White supremacists actually made it INSIDE a government building while a session was in order. And one person was killed by an officer. Now please, don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I don’t want to see more deaths. I am a firm believer in gun control and think that it should be the last thing to resort to. I just think that if you aren’t going to use force and intimidation to control Nazis and KKK members, don’t use it for people who are literally protesting for equality and an end to the violence. It sets a precedent that one belief is right while the other is wrong. When objectively, I would argue that it’s the other way around. Another daunting example is Jidenna’s “White N****”. Jidenna starts off the track by creating a hypothetical, posing the idea that, “if you and your wife, Madeline, were treated like mine, all the anchors on ABC Nightline would speak about white crime”. Jidenna beautifully creates an alternate reality in which white people were the target of aggression, with “white girls arrested at random [and] cops lookin’ for pills.” Now, once again. This isn’t to call for targeting white people. This is to flip the situation, so white people could understand the constant fear and racial profiling. He brings up the scenario of a young, white child being killed, rapping that “they known for killing those children, and they’ll just get acquitted, claiming the girl is armed, though they know damn well she isn’t.” Just imagine if a white child was killed for playing with a toy gun. Although the circumstance would be horrifyingly tragic regardless, the outrage would indeed have been significantly more than it was for Tamir Rice, whose killers were fired, but never charged.
Furthermore, in Scarface’s “Hand of the Dead Body,” he talks about a white guy named David, who “gets mad and kills his dad. David Duke’s got a shotgun, so why you get upset when [Scarface] got one? A tisket, a tasket. A n**** got his ass kicked. Shot in the face by a cop, close casket.” Similar to the Capitol riots, white people are able to walk the streets waving their weapons around. There are videos on the internet of them antagonizing cops with their guns. And yet… nothing. Whereas a Black person doesn’t even need to be carrying a damn weapon to get attacked! Black men are in jail longer for petty crimes than white men are for rapes and murders. It makes absolutely zero sense to me.
Lastly, there is one song that I strongly believe needs to be dissected in detail. It’s heartbreaking to listen to, but it perfectly encapsulates everything I’ve mentioned. Papoose wrote a song called “Tribute”, honoring the lives lost to racism and police brutality. In alphabetical order, he begins his tribute with the stories of Amadou Diallo, who was shot 19 times in a case of mistaken identity, and Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot by three racists for simply going on a jog. Trump supporters and Proud Boys have been reckless, instigating violence, and hatred. And yet, they receive escorts home and police protection. Amadou could not even get a courtesy warning shot. Even though he was innocent, and the police had already failed to do their job when they caught the wrong person, instantly looking at the color of his skin rather than his defining and individualistic features. His identity was robbed from him, and then his life. Ahmaud’s killers had racist histories, threatening harm to Black people all over the internet for the world to see. And yet, they were monitored or deemed people of interest. All in the name of freedom of speech. Papoose continues on to the letter B, telling the story of Bettie Jones, who was accidentally shot and killed when the police were responding to a call. She was a helpful neighbor who let the police in and tried to help calm the situation but ended up struck and killed when weapons were dispatched. No one was penalized, and instead, the blame was put on Jones for moving into the line of fire when she was trying to get into the safety of her apartment. Papoose then talks about Cornelius Brown, a 25-year-old with schizophrenia who was shot 7 times for having a mental breakdown. The song continues down the rest of the alphabet, naming more publicized deaths such as Eric Garner, who’s “now a martyr, ain’t deserved to be slaughtered”, Emmitt Till, George Floyd, Mike Brown, and Philandro Castro, and deaths that were not so widely publicized, such as Jamar Clark, who was shot by police who claimed he was resisting arrest and meeting them with violence despite multiple witness accounts differing. Papoose ends the song with the letter Z, calling out George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin’s killer, by saying, “Zimmerman, I know you think you got away with it, but everyone has karma, yours gon’ be my favorite.” A lot of those names did not see justice, Trayvon being one of them. As if the fact that there are enough stories to go down the complete alphabet isn’t horrific enough.
Yes, police reformation is indeed a universal issue. However, to say that police brutality is not racially charged is an ignorant sentiment. Why are Black people met with accusatory aggression, when white people can be met with patience and kindness. Everyone should be met with that. A cop’s first instinct should not be to shoot someone or to kneel on their neck while they’re begging for a breath of air. The storming of the Capitol, when members of Congress were put in danger and scared for their lives is a moment where it would make sense to use their weapons or force. Not to take selfies with rioters. But a Black man can’t reach in his pocket? According to AOC’s video, they felt as though their lives might end. These people committed acts of terrorism, and yet even after years of mass shootings, terrorists are thought of as Brown people with long beards and turbans. These same people came up with multiple defenses as to why George Floyd and Eric Garner deserved to die, despite video footage of their innocence. And yet Ashli Babbitt was a patriot and a beloved veteran. She got her most flattering picture all over the news despite her past, whereas victims of police brutality are shown with mugshots, or years old pictures taken out of context. Never their graduation photos, or photos of them with their families. Getting a new president is a start. But these events that took place cannot be forgotten. History has been written, and this is something that will forever have a mark on our country. Arresting the terrorists that stormed the Capitol is a start. But then use that same restraint for Black people. Don’t mercilessly shoot them down.