Friday, April 27, 2007

Stop Snitching: 60 Minutes’ Assassination of Hip Hop Culture

Hip Hop in the Crosshairs

“This is what I mean an anti-nigger machine!” -Chuck D. (Public Enemy)

OK. I’ve finally been moved to respond to the “Stop Snitching” segment that appeared on 60 minutes recently. I was avoiding it until now because this would make the third post in a row that I’ve had to defend hip-hop to one degree or another. But, after five full days, the story continues to stick in my craw.

If you saw the segment, you might be moved to believe that an entire generation of young, black inner-city inhabitants is being led down the path of self-destruction, Pied piper-style, by rappers like Busta Rhymes and Cam’ron. Apparently, the programmers at 60 Minutes would like you to buy into the idea that fans of hip hop are being encouraged to not cooperate with the police if they witness a crime being committed. Regarding this particular illusion, allow me to employ a recently resurrected reference to the infamous 1978 mass murder/suicide in Jonestown, Guyana: “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I won’t bore you with detailing the numerous problems with the piece. I would, however, like to make a few quick points.

“Justice,” as it were, is metered out quite differently on rough the urban streets of this country than it is in the state-sponsored criminal justice system. Quite a few of the young men who refuse to cooperate with police with regard to crimes like assault and homicide, even if they or their loved ones have been victimized, do so because they intend to directly exact revenge. Actually, I’m surprised that media darling Anderson Cooper didn’t take this salacious little detail into account. Imagine what kind of legs this story would have had if he’d introduced the idea that vigilantism is the law of the land in the ghettoes of the US.

Of all the cultural observers, sociologists, community advocates or thoughtful MCs 60 Minutes could have interviewed about this “phenomenon” they chose Cam’ron. Consider that for a moment. They chose Cam’ron, an inventor of ridiculous self-celebratory nursery rhymes, to explain the somewhat complicated issue of black distrust of the law enforcement machine. Next week I’m fully expecting to turn on 60 minutes and see an interview with Lil’ Kim about her thoughts on the disintegration of the black family.

Black folks and other minorities have been taught, by experience, to be wary of police. How much investigative journalism would it have taken to uncover this elusive detail? This should have been the predominant issue of the segment but it wasn’t even given a cursory examination.

Thankfully, I have access to a brother in the know, Dr. Lorenzo Boyd, a criminal justice professor at the University of Texas and an expert on community policing. He was gracious enough to arm me with a number of important facts regarding the relationship between those who police the nation’s inner cities and those who live in them. Here’s a few:

  1. Although Blacks comprise roughly 14% of America’s population, Blacks constitute over 60% of all police arrests.
  2. Race is one of the strongest predictors of attitudes towards the police
  3. Black citizens in general tend to have less confidence in the police than Whites and are often skeptical of the police’s willingness or ability to protect them
  4. In a 1998 Department of Justice Report, 67% of White respondents reported that they felt that the police treated all races fairly, while only 30% of Blacks felt that way
  5. Public opinion polls have shown that overall Blacks tend to have a more negative view of the police than Whites, and Whites were more likely to support the use of deadly force by police than were Blacks.
  6. Police brutality is a major source of dissatisfaction with police among both urban residents and racial minorities
  7. Fatal shootings by police are more frequent in areas that have a large number of racial or economic underclass.
  8. The 1992 St. Clair Commission report (examining Boston's police department) showed that race still plays a central role in the use of excessive force. The report found that during the period studied, 50 percent of complainants in the sample group were Black, while 26 percent of Boston's population was Black.
  9. The Christopher Commission: “Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers frequently treat minorities differently from Whites, more often using disrespectful and abusive language, employing unnecessarily intrusive practices such as the `prone-out,' and engaging in use of excessive force when dealing with minorities" (1991).
  10. According to the 1991 Christopher Commission Report on the Los Angeles Police Department, racial bias within the LAPD is not confined to the officer’s treatment of minority citizens, but it is also reflected in the conduct of officers towards their minority colleagues.
  11. Minority officers are still too often subjected to racial slurs, discrimination within the police department. More than 80% of the minority officers in the Los Angeles Police Department are concentrated in “entry-level police officer ranks.”
  12. The Christopher Commission cites a survey of which 650 officers responded. It states that approximately one-quarter of the officers responding agreed that “racial bias” (prejudice) on the part of officers towards minority citizens contributes to negative relations with the public (Christopher 1991).
  13. The police are more likely to use full law enforcement authority (i.e., arrest) in communities that have higher percentages of minorities (Jackson and Boyd 2005).
  14. African Americans 3x more likely than whites to experience threatened or actual force and are Hispanics more likely than whites, but less likely than African Americans, to experience either.
  15. Police seen as unresponsive to complaints against them.
  16. Racial & ethnic minorities often accuse police of failing to investigate, “covering up.”
  17. Most people who believe they are a victim of police misconduct do not report it.

Lest you accuse me of being a complete pessimist, I end this with a glimmer of hope. I hope that maybe, one day, the powers that be at 60 Minutes will decide that, instead of attempts at broad cultural character assassination, they’ll dig just a little deeper into the roots of issues having to deal with black America. But until then, I’ll light a candle for Ed Bradley, continue to curse the day that Andy Rooney was born and resign myself to watching America’s Funniest Home Videos.

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At 9:15 PM , Anonymous Viece said...

I hate to be the person who says that only someone of that race can report on matters of race. However, I don't think some people of certain cultures should cover stories that their research cannot deem objective. I don't doubt the piece could have been better even if a white person wrote it, I just would have felt more comfortable from a credibility stand point if someone who "knows the 'hood" had done the story....isn't that sad. Not only do we not trust the police, but we don't trust the media either -- at least i don't. And i generally like Anderson Cooper. I only saw pieces of the 60 minute show -- i really couldn't stomach most of it. They were just missing the point all together. No one is saying the real thing that needs to be heard -- A few bad hip hop apples seem to have spoiled the whole bunch for those of us who know what hip hop was really meant to be about.

At 1:21 AM , Anonymous Mahogany Elle said...

Clearly, I am up too late polishing up a paper, but I must say kudos on this post. Very insightful. Very true. Next I hope to see a missive on why thugs in pink must massively turn in their black cards. Lol.

M. Elle


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