Hip Hop is an undeniable global phenomenon with the ability to impact millions of people.
The influential power of the culture that began in The Bronx forty years ago has routinely been used to address social concerns such as police brutality and inner-city crime.
For example, The Game recently brought together cops, gang members, local residents, and politicians for a conversation about the highly publicized violence that the entire nation witnessed this summer.
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AllHipHop.com spoke with fellow Los Angeles emcee Murs about Hip Hop’s part in improving the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
“I believe [Hip Hop] can play a large role. It is a common bridge because you have officers that grew up listening to Snoop Dogg. I know officers in New York that put me on to French Montana years ago,” says Murs. “I think we’re at a point where we’ve evolved. We all know some cool cops, and cops know that Hip Hop is part of the world now. To me, it’s the most dominant culture in the world so they have to respect us.”
The host of the Where You At? L.A. online series adds, “I think Hip Hop has made it easier for black people, brown people, white people, gangbangers, and cops to come together on a level playing field.”
Murs’ hometown has long been a focal point for shining a spotlight on excessive force conducted by officers of the law.
From N.W.A’s classic “F-ck Tha Police” to the videotaped beating of Rodney King to YG’s recent “Police Get Away Wit Murder,” the LAPD has built a reputation among many Hip Hop devotees as a symbol of a police department deeply embedded with systemic racism.
[ALSO READ: A Conversation With Murs On ‘Where You At?’, Strange Music & His Upcoming 24 Hour Rap Marathon]
There have been reports that race relations at the Los Angeles Police Department have improved.
Police Chief Charlie Beck received praise from civil rights advocates in January after recommending an officer that fatally shot unarmed Brendon Glenn should face criminal charges.
Chief Beck champions the fact his department is 45 percent Hispanic and 13 percent African-American because the percentages closely align to the demographics of Los Angeles (49% Hispanic, 10% African-American).
Those numbers are in stark difference to the makeup of the highly criticized Ferguson, Missouri police department which disproportionately featured a majority white force (94%) policing a majority black town (67%) at the height of the Michael Brown protests in 2014.
Plus, a 2011 New York Times article referred to the LAPD as “a model police agency for the United States.”
In contrast, off-duty L.A. police officer Shaun Hillmann was caught on an audio recording in 2012 referring to an African-American as a “monkey,” and he reportedly called black men the “N-word” during an encounter in Norco, California.
Chief Beck only gave the nephew of former Deputy Chief Michael Hillmann a 65-day suspension despite calls by high-ranking police officials and a disciplinary board for Officer Hillmann to be fired for the racist remarks and lying to his superiors about the incident.
A year later, ex-LAPD cop Christopher Dorner blasted the department for widespread racism in a manifesto written in the middle of his multi-county rampage which left law enforcement officers and civilians dead.
In response to Dorner’s charge, Sgt. Wayne K. Guillary publicly expressed his belief that the LAPD still had a problem with racial discrimination in its ranks, but the veteran peace officer also acknowledged Chief Beck’s strides to improve the department.
Even the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has faced accusations of prejudice. Earlier this year, a police official was forced to resign after emails disparaging Muslims, Catholics, Latinos, African-Americans, and women were uncovered.
So has America’s third largest police force actually changed since the world witnessed L.A. cops mercilessly kick Rodney King and strike him over 50 times with their batons in 1991?
According to Murs, things have improved in his view. However, he still experiences the anxiety many people of color feel when they come in contact with a cop.
The “Time Is Now” rhymer also has the same reaction when crossing the path of certain gang representatives.
“It’s a lot chiller than it used to be. But when I still see [cops], I’m on edge. I grew up in a Crip neighborhood, so when I see Bloods, I’m still a little on edge,” Murs states. “But I think we’re all growing up. I go to my friend’s son’s football game and there are rival neighborhoods there. We’re all learning to get along. And the LAPD ain’t nothing but another gang.”
He continues, “You have groups like TDE where there are Bloods and Crips working together making music, making millions of dollars. Nipsey Hussle and YG are coming together to make a statement against Donald Trump. Game and Snoop are coming together. We’re learning that we don’t have to like each other, but we don’t’ have to be at each other’s neck all the time. As L.A. culture evolves, we’re getting to that point.”
Numerous reports, panels, and organizations have been established to confront unnecessary police violence and improve overall safety for minority neighborhoods. President Barack Obama commissioned a Task Force on 21st Century Policing as well.
One of the heavily cited recommendations from experts on the subject is the creation of genuine, sustained citizen-cop relationships. A strategy also known as community policing.
A popular example of a police officer actively striving to build trust with the inhabitants of the location he patrols can be found in Little Rock, Arkansas. Officer Tommy Norman has become a social media sensation for sharing various acts of community policing with his 900,000 Facebook fans and 1.2 million Instagram followers.
The LAPD has its own Community Policing Unit. The department also formed Community-Police Advisory Boards with the goal of providing an outlet for community members to provide advice to the Area Commanding Officer and to give residents a voice in the policing of their communities.
As police forces across the country continue to reform and activists continue to demand accountability from law enforcement, Hip Hop still has a role to play in bringing awareness and offering solutions to police brutality.
Murs suggests seeking mutual understanding can be an extremely effective approach to moving all sides closer together. The artistic culture that allowed the 38-year-old entertainer to positively touch other people’s lives can likewise serve as a unifying force to break down the divisive walls that separate individuals by race, status, lifestyles, or any other societal segment.
“[Cops] want to make it home like we want to make it home, and if we treat each other with respect, everybody gets to go home and earn a living,” says Murs. “We can build a solid foundation of peace and equality for future generations, whether we are realizing that consciously or unconsciously. We all love Tupac. We all love Snoop Dogg – there’s a lot more that we have in common than we did in the late 80’s and early 90’s.”