Oscar Grant, Oakland & Hip-Hop: Connect the Dots

The sentencing of Johannes Mehserle sent shock waves through the Bay Area Friday. There was hurt and anger throughout the region. I was in downtown Oakland when the sentencing came down. Two years with credit for time served felt as bad as if he was acquitted. At that very moment, the hopelessness rushed in as justice rushed out. This generation just got it’s Rodney King.

As a young man that grew up in Oakland and loves this city, it was devastating to not only hear the verdict, but the way in which the entire case was handled. Everything from the case being moved from the Bay Area to LA to the judge’s rationalization of his verdict has added to the huge cloud of despair that was cast over the Bay Area on Friday. It felt as if the life of young black man was worthless and even if that is not the case, that was the feeling that verdict left you with.

The other thing that has also been nagging at me has been the depiction of Oakland throughout the trial. As someone that grew up in and works in Oakland I am disgusted about the way our city has been misrepresented throughout. The headlines all read “riot” and “mobs”. I was there for the 3 major events that happened throughout this case. The first was a rally at the Fruitvale BART Station, the place where Mr. Grant was killed. There was a rally there that was charged with anger, hurt and frustration but it was PEACEFUL. The second was when the verdict was rendered and Johannes Mehserle was found guilty of the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter. I was downtown with the talk radio show team that I work with. We were broadcasting live from downtown Oakland. A few windows were broken but a riot it was not. Finally, the third time was this past Friday when Mehserle was sentenced to two years minus time already served. The crowds formed and were again upset but a riot did not break out. There was some damage done but nothing on the scale that the media would have you believe.

I’m making this point because this case, whether we like it or not, is tied to our culture of Hip-Hop. The Hip-Hop culture is often seen as a very homogeneous group that reacts like a caged dog lacking the ability to rationalize and reason. In the eyes of the media, it does not matter if you have a master’s degree or saggy pants. A lot of the time, we are all seen as the same. The perception of Oakland has always been one of poverty and destruction so no one challenges the claims made about us in the media when accused of inciting a riot.

On Friday night, I reached out to as many local artists I could from Oakland via twitter. I was calling for them to help spread the word about what happened to Mr. Grant and what was happening in our city (Sway and Hammer, I appreciate you guys being responsive). Hip-Hop is one of the biggest platforms of influence in both the United States and International Culture. The world wants to dress like us, talk like us, walk like us and sound like us. However, we never really use that platform outside of our own self-interests.

The narcissism in our culture needs to stop or at least curb itself when we can make a REAL difference. Oakland protesting alone is not as powerful as our nation of young people protesting in unison. It is a sad day when the “Stop Snitching Campaign” is far more powerful then our ability to rally around a young man being executed in cold blood-a young man that is a representative of our culture. As a culture, we can do way better. With the legions of fans that Jay-Z, Lil’ Wayne, Drake, 50, Nikki, Lupe, Talib, Jeezy, Soulja Boy and Kanye West possess I truly believe we can change things. What would happen if these folks hooked up to REALLY speak on this issue? How do we honor Sean Bell and Oscar Grant and the other bevy of young folks that something like this has happened to? Please don’t answer with tearing up our own cities. That’s definitely not the answer. Hip-Hop has built up Ciroc while simultaneously putting a dent in Cristal’s bottom line. Tell me that’s not all we’re good for. Do you mean to tell me we cannot do better than that? I know we can. I’m asking for rappers, journalists and consumers to actually stand for something. Hip-Hop, please represent us right. I swear to you, if I had the type of influence that Rappers and Athletes had…


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