By Tony Muhammad
Wake up and realise the times
That we living in the world is getting more iller than ever
Thought we was chillin’, striving change for the better
But it was a dream like Martin Luther
He had a vision that could move a mountain
Protect one another, that’s world to my brother Malcolm
We want justice, police supposed to protect and serve
And then they shoot us down like wild animals
The nerve of them cold-hearted killers
With blue suits slaying our black youth
The earth cries from all the blood that’s being spilled
We need a solution fast, get Insh’Allah bill
Let me educate them, translate it meaning God’s will
It goes all in together, together how we are
To stand with a plan, provided we down to fall
And that’s the Willie Lynch tactics that separated the masses
Taught us all to think backwards – Raekwon – Wu-Tang-Clan – A Better Tomorrow
The title track to the new album A Better Tomorrow by the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, was one of several artistic responses to the police murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York in 2014 and the countless others that have resulted in no justice with the murderers allowed to walk free. This song as well J. Cole’s Be Free speak not only to the condition of police abuse and murder that Black and Brown people consistently have suffered from historically in the United States, but also conditions that have kept our communities in a perpetual state of oppression and modern-day slavery. While the amount of musical responses to the current atmosphere of dissatisfaction may not be to
the level of desire from conscientious artists such as Quest Love who has stressed that Hip Hop as an artistic community has been “too silent,” yet and still Nas, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, Rosa Clemente, Rebel Diaz, Jasiri X and others in the Hip Hop community have shown where their hearts lie and have been consistently organizing and going to the streets, facing danger with demonstrators to play their part to demand the human right for justice.
While systematic brutality and murder have been oppressive realities that we have faced in the United States since its inception, qualitatively, the response has been different in recent years, especially since the vigilante murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida on February 26, 2012. In fact, The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has referred to Trayvon Martin’s murder as “a nail in the coffin of white supremacy” because of the level of awareness that it has sparked in our communities all over the country. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has also noted that the majority of the protests that have been organized throughout the country recently have been headed by women. This has made the level of intensity of the protests to be stronger than it has ever been felt because as The Minister also says “A mother’s love is second only to God’s.” Mothers all over the country are tired of burying their sons and in practically every case for no indictment of the murderer to take place.
On August 18th, 2014, USA Today published the findings of a seven year study conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that states that “a quarter of the 400 annual deaths reported to federal authorities by local police departments were white-on-black shootings.” It furthermore stated that “18% of the black suspects were under the age of 21 when killed by the police, as opposed to just 8.7% of white suspects.” Official “reported” statistics are usually conservative and do not speak to the extent of the reality experienced in our communities because there are so many more unreported cases. Nevertheless, these official statistics are still high and disproportionate. Coherently, according to a study conducted by The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, in 2012 alone, 313 Black people were killed by police, security guards or vigilantes. The report further uncovers the disproportionate amount of police harassment and incarceration experienced by non-whites in comparison to whites.
What does this all mean to the Hip Hop community? Since the early beginnings of Hip Hop culture in the late 1960s and 1970s in the South Bronx, New York (and very arguable even way before this) and now beyond, the alienated youth, mainly Blacks and Latinos, participating in its various Elements would experience constant harassment, abuse and even murder at the hands of police. Jeff Chang in the book Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation mentions on pages 97 and 98 how one of Afrika Bambaataa’s own cousins Soulski was shot and killed by police on January 6, 1975 in a way that was believed fowl play was involved. A month after Soulski’s murder, a fourteen-year-old who had been joyriding in a stolen car was shot and killed. The police claimed that he lunged at them with a weapon, but autopsies showed that he had been shot through the back. The police officers involved in both shootings were acquitted. Instead of retaliating with an all-out war against the police, Bambaataa, the warlord of the Black Spades himself, chose instead to bring members of the various rival street organizations together, end the violence, and build Zulu Nation and focus on developing more positive outlets for the youth to participate in. DJs Jazzy Jay and Grandwizzard Theodore personally told me in a conversation about how the parties that Bambaataa and others were throwing in the community at the time were actually saving lives because they were keeping many of the youth off the street.
With this being said, the Founding Fathers of Hip Hop paid a price with sweat, blood and tears so that we can enjoy all of the great things that has come out of the culture today. We owe them not only a great amount of gratitude in words, but gratitude in the form of actual work in order to further advance the cause of saving the youth. As it was in the early years of Hip Hop, our youth continue to suffer and are in need of outlets to express their creativity today. As it was in the early 80s, as shown in the PBS documentary Style Wars in the works of Skeme as he graffiti bombed on a New York City train “ALL YOU SEE IS CRIME IN THE CITY” with the illustration of police officer at the end with a billy club, so it is with our dealings with (mainly white) men with badges who for the most part do not understand our culture and have been trained to view all of our activity as negative with no chance for redemption.
Two recent incidents in Miami speak to this reality; however there are incidents like this that occur every day throughout the country. The first, on August 6, 2013, Graffiti Artist Israel “Reefa” Hernandez was tasered to death after being caught tagging on the wall of a shuttered McDonald’s. The second, on December 5th, 2014, after being caught tagging in the graffiti-filled area of Wynwood, Graffiti Artist Delbert “Demz” Rodriguez was killed when a police officer used his car as a weapon to stop him from running away. March demonstrations and graffititagging protests have resulted in these incidents. But after it’s all done, the
vicious cycle continues until an actual owning up of our youth and Divine Culture takes place. We have been demanding justice all this time from a wicked system that was never designed for our benefit and will continue to deny us justice. The only sure justice is the justice that we can provide to each other and ourselves. A New Approach is needed.
Hip Hop Icon KRS-One has been severely criticized and ridiculed, even within the Hip Hop community itself, about his self-determinist vision for Hip Hop to develop its own city. Even if we do not subscribe to the possibility of such an occurrence in present time, the practices that we need to grow further into and maintain in this stage of our development as a people is the actual ownership of property, development of business/institutions and the accessing of resources that can serve as outlets for our youth to express themselves creatively, gain valuable internship opportunities and work training and organizing of programs that will further enrich our communities. This falls in the same great tradition of “Do For Self” and “Establish Something of our Own” vision that great leaders such as Marcus Garvey, Cesar Chavez, Reies Tijerina, Afrika Bambaata, The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan have had for us and our communities. The question is how much do we care and how much do we love? Are we willing to do everything we can to save our youth? Peace.
Tony Muhammad has been teaching Social Studies in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for over 15 years. Tony is most noted for his work as publisher of Urban America Newspaper (2003 – 2007) and co-organizer of the Organic Hip Hop Conference (2004 – 2009). He currently serves as a student assistant minister to Student Minister Patrick Muhammad at Muhammad Mosque #29 in Miami, Florida.