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The Politics of Protest: Rap, Race, and Riots

Editor’s Note: This is Part 1 of AllHipHop.com’s month-long series , “Rap, Race and Riots: Hip-Hop 20 Years after the L.A. Rebellion.”

“Only in Cali where we riot/ not rally” – “California Love” –Dr. Dre and 2Pac

Recently, in Memphis, the shooting of African American teenager, Thomas Martin King, Jr., by George Earl Koontz, a white, off duty security guard at the Loraine Hotel, sparked waves of protests. King was shot while returning from the grocery store with a small bag of Marvin’s Mini Marshmallows, which Koontz thought was crack. Days later, Civil Rights leaders held voter registration and fish fry rallies calling for the prosecution of Koontz, and people across the country sent used marshmallow bags to the Memphis Police Department in protest. Thirty days later, the murder is a distant memory, and Koontz has still not been charged with murder. However, the local civil rights organization has new office furniture, and the stock of Marvin’s Marshmallows has risen 100%. Sadly, the King family is without a son or Justice…

Although it is said that “April showers bring May flowers,” this month also seems to rain revolution. Forty-four years ago this week, America went up in flames following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (April 4, 1968). Twenty years ago, L.A. was almost burned to the ground following the acquittal of the four police officers who, unmercifully, beat Rodney King (April 29, 1992). And 11 years ago a rebellion broke out in Cincinnati following the murder of Timothy Thomas at the hands of a cop (April 9, 2001) . Fast forward to April, 2012, and people across the country are protesting the murder of Trayvon Martin at the hands of a self-proclaimed neighborhood watch captain.

Anybody else see a pattern here?

While people often get caught up in the emotionalism of tragic events, it is critical for us to study how they are – continuously – able to pull off these acts without causing a Revolutionary War.

To remix that Jay Z line from “30 Something”, “We respect the one who got shot/ they respect the shooter.”

While heavy-handed government suppression of “militants” is often seen as the ideal way of countering urban unrest, the most strategic methods are done more subtly.

The blueprint on how to tactfully handle racial disorder in America, the Kerner Commision Report, was released February 29, 1968, ironically, six weeks before the King assassination. The report dealt with various strategies on how to prevent urban unrest in America.

A generation later, Dr. Brenda Wall in her book, The Rodney King Rebellion, stated that the day of the rebellion the judge in the trial of the LAPD officers gave police officials a two hour notice, “realizing the tension that the verdict might unleash.” She also wrote that the LAPD also had a million dollar contingency plan for civil disturbance.

It’s no wonder that the Trayvon Martin murder took so long to gain public attention. Somebody must have needed a head start.

According to Kalonji Jama Changa, founder/national coordinator of The FTP Movement and author of the book, How to Build a People’s Army, “The state has definitely adopted improved methods to keep the people in check. They have recruited more buffers between the people and the state to keep the flames low.” Perhaps that’s why we don’t see “militant” rappers and “intelligent hoodlums” addressing social issues like we did in the early ’90s.

Back during the Rodney King Era, we had Sister Souljah to speak for the ‘hood. Now, we only have Sista Soledad O’Brien.

Big difference.

Another tactic that has been used is turning public outrage into a business. Peter Dogget in his work, There’s a Riot Going On, wrote about an October 1968 meeting held by “advertising agencies and entertainment conglomerates,” called, “Selling the American Youth Market”, where attendees learned how to capitalize off the Vietnam War/Civil Rights protests.

Following the L.A. Rebellion, you could hardly keep track of the videos, books and talk shows that tried to hip a horrified, middle class, white America to the plight of young, “urban” males.

In a recent Associated Press article called “Trayvon, Inc.”, Curt Anderson reported how some people are using the tragedy to hawk T-shirts, bumper stickers, hoodies, and posters, etc., and how “pass the hat rallies” are raking in thousands of dollars.

What must be remembered is that the periods of racial turmoil of ’68, ’92, and 2012, have something in common: they all happened during election years. And in an election year, everything is political. The Republicans need another “Black boogey man” in order to push their ” blame the victim/get tough on crime” agenda.

And, the Democrats desperately need a quick way to energize a disenchanted Black base who are asking themselves, “Are we really better off now than we were four years ago?” Already, we have seen Civil Rights leaders and media celebrities try to turn the Trayvon tragedy into a glorified “register to vote rally.”

The pimpin’ of the people continues, which is easy when the masses don’t know what to do when the racial emergency alarm goes off. Do you fill out a voter’s registration form? Buy a bag of Skittles? Or do you find the nearest window, and throw a brick through it?

A wise man once said that “voting is a Democracy’s alternative to rioting in the streets.” So it is always in the state’s best interest to “keep hope alive” and preach the gospel of “Change.” However, history seems to suggest that America won’t budge until she smells smoke – as fire has served to be very motivational.

During the turbulent ’60s, according to Herbert Hains in his book, Black Radicals and the Civil Rights Movement, the Feds, corporations and philanthropic organizations shelled out major dollars in order to keep the peace.

Lou Cannon wrote in his book, Official Negligence, that after the looting of businesses during the L.A. Rebellion “RLA (Rebuild LA) promoted perhaps 500 million dollars of development in the riot area.”

As of this writing, all of the singin’ and marchin’ for justice for Trayvon hasn’t gotten us anything but sore throats and calluses.

Apparently, sometimes crime does pay.

How the powers-that-be can successfully contain public outrage in a post-“Occupy Wall Street” era of Twitter-generated flash mob protests, when more young people are getting their news from YouTube and Facebook than CNN and MSNBC, remains to be seen.

However, no matter how one chooses to express his sense of moral outrage, one thing is certain. This April, you better get your umbrella.

Like Arrested Development once sang:

“It’s raining revolution/ It’s raining solutions.”

TRUTH Minista Paul Scott’s weekly column is “This Ain’t Hip Hop,” a column for intelligent Hip Hop headz. He can be reached at info@nowarningshotsfired.com, on his website, NoWarningShotsFired.com, or on Twitter (@truthminista).

  • rep87

    Good article allwayz on point keep up the good work !

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  • Noel Smart

    Could someone tell me where I can find news about the shooting of Thomas King Jr. in Memphis this article briefly touches on…I’ve googled it and haven’t found anything

    • It was just an example , here is something to google:
       Howard Morgan , black Chicago police officer , shot 28x by 4 white officer’s who stopped him a block from his home.

  • Goldshot Pro

    tupac tupac u r

  • Indeed , sad part is , after this , the bar will be set higher…what will it take to get mad next time?

  • Black people need to realize that these so called leaders are just pity brokers and eat off of tragedies while doing nothing  to fix them.

  • J.O.

    I only have one disagreement with this article and thats with the Rodney King thing. That wasnt injustice IMO he deserved to have his ass beat. Look at the events that occurred before that. He had priors and was convicted of robbery, he was a known drug addict and was under the influence at the time, he himself admitted he didnt pull over because it would violate his probation. Lastly, he led police officers through residential streets at speeds close to 100mph. Had he killed somebody’s child I think more people would agree with me. Rodney King don’t compare to the “real” people who lost lives and was beat without any cause at all. There’s plenty of “real” victims of police brutality.Rodney King is not one! 

    • immackulate

      you playing the “what if” game … because he never “killed somebodies child”

      yes he did run from the police HOWEVER police are trained on how to properly detain an individual/suspect – and i dont think calling someone everything in the book except for a CHILD OF GOD and kicking 2 feet off in his azz was the PROPER WAY OF DETAINING A SUSPECT

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  • Black folks need to examine themselves… No one will respect us until we respect ourselves first. The Trayvon murder is an example of just that. We as black people always look for outsiders to help us and our problems. We should be doing that ourselves. Protesting and marching has done nothing but get “black Folks killed”. Following these ambulance fame chasing ass niggas( Al Sharpton & Jesse ” keep hope alive” Jackson) don’t do us any justice, these people are paid to misdirect your anger and frustrations about injustice. In the 60’s we had movements until house negroes infiltrated and sold our movements down the drain( Yes Jesse Jackson sold out MLK for a later presidential bid where he coined “keep hope alive” in which Obama ran on 20 something years later and won..no wonder he wanted to cut obama’s balls off). I truly feel that Oakland should have burned for Oscar Grant, NewYork should have burned for Amadou Diallo, Ramarly Graham, Sean Bell….etc the list goes on…past and present. During the LA riots the media said oh..why are they burning their own stores?..( There were no black business to begin with… the money from those business left the inner city to the suburbs just like today…but it is more costly because corporations own most of the businesses now… so to burn them would send a clear message. But what will we do… march shuck and jive, sing and dance because we love Massa and his system of oppression (mental, physical, and economical). I’m down for the get down!

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