Passing The Torch of Police Brutality: Sean Bell & The Solution


we live dangerous, cops could just/ Arrest me, blaming us, we're held like

hostages- Nas, NY State of Mind

I got my first car when I was 18. "Now when you get pulled over,

it's a serious thing," my dad said to me before he handed me the keys to a

brown Toyota Celica. "You keep your hands on the wheel if you get

stopped. Move slowly. If you are going to reach for anything like a

wallet you tell him what you are going to do and do it slow. If you move

too fast they will kill you."

There was a seriousness in his eyes and his tone that I knew better than to

ignore. But in my head, a part of me, said, "All right Pop slow

down. This ain't the deep South where you're from. We live in the

Bay and it's the 1980s."

The first time a gun was put in my face, it was by the SFPD. A cop

drew a 9mm pistol on me for wearing a red and black jacket with the words PARIS

(a pro-black rapper not the chick) across the back. They said I looked

like a gang member from Pinole (a surrounding city), and said I made an illegal

u-turn to get a parking space. They were physically smaller than me (the

one with his gun on me was trembling and was afraid) and I knew they would not

hesitate to put a bullet through my eye socket if I did anything but breathe.

All of my father's advice crystallized in that moment. I spoke

slowly and clearly as they made eye contact, and explained I had no weapons,

was unarmed and that I had broken no laws.

It took the cop a few seconds to hear me through his fear, and eventually he

put the gun down. He smiled and said, "Gangs in the area are wearing

your colors." Funny how, being a 6 foot tall black man, I always

seem to be in "gang colors." I wake up in gang colors. I

got to bed in gang colors. I walk to the corner store in gang colors.

I was born in gang colors. I'm black.

Today I'm 38, and have a son. In 10 years, I will have to have the same

conversation with him. How can I not?

This past Friday, the cops that murdered Sean Bell were acquitted.

So many were surprised. I wasn't. Surprised at what?

The same courts that let the cops in Rodney King's videotaped beating walk, the

same courts who set up the three strikes and Rockefeller Drug Laws, and the

same courts that let Amadou Diallo die in cold blood gave no justice to

Sean Bell. Again. And people are surprised? Our system is

failing us on so many levels.

No rational human being with knowledge of the American justice system could

really be shocked. This is America and American courts have

never made justice for black men a priority. The fact that they allowed

his parents to file anything in court at all is simply the illusion of


When N.W.A. dropped "Fuck The Police" in the late 1980s many in the

American media attacked them. Even the F.B.I. saw fit to write their

label a threatening letter about how inappropriate the nature of the song was.

And shortly thereafter, the release of Paris' "Coffee Donuts and Death"

and Ice T's "Cop Killer" created a firestorm of controversy in the

media. Hip-Hop music has documented racial and systematic injustice more

effectively than any other art form to date, and this has been in large part

because of the fact that much of what America has tried to sweep under

the rug hasn't gone unnoticed by hip-hop artists who care.

So many questions were asked. "Why would black men write songs

against the police?" "Who would write, let alone SELL music

advocating police murder?" "Why do black men hate cops so


But nobody asked if some of the accusations of police brutality being made had

any merit. How could so many rappers, from so many different parts of America, be so

unified in their feelings about the same subject? I was told by a white

college student in the 1990s that the original police forces were bands of

slave overseers "policing" the plantations of rich whites after Lincoln signed the

Emancipation Proclamation. He said that their job was to keep free

Africans afraid to rebel against their former masters.

Now, based on what I have seen in the courts and on TV, and in my own personal

experiences of being terrorized and falsely accused by police officers since my

early teen years - it all makes even more sense. Rap music is a billion

dollar industry for some, and is a way out the ghetto for others. But for

me, undiluted hip-hop is one of the real scoreboards of what is going on in the

minds, hearts and souls of black men. If you are attuned to what is going

on outside the mainstream, you can see that young black males have been trying

to bring attention to their struggle against police brutality for decades.

Their pleas for help went ignored by not only the courts and black and white

media outlets, but by the old civil rights leadership too. Bill Cosby

said nothing. Theo Huxtable never had to deal with what my friends and I

had to deal with.

A few years before Sean Bell was murdered, rapper Talib Kweli wrote about the

pain of having to pass on the torch of teaching his son about the reality of

police brutality.

Niggaz with knowledge is more dangerous than than niggaz with guns

They make the guns easy to get and try to keep niggaz dumb

Target the gangs and graffiti with the Prop 21

I already know the deal but what the fuck do I tell my son?

I want him livin' right, livin good, respect the rules

He's five years old and he still thinkin' cops is cool

How do I break the news that when he gets some size

He'll be perceived as a threat or see the fear in they eyes

It's in they job description to terminate the threat

So 41 shots to the body is what he can expect

The precedent is set, don't matter if he follow the law

I know I'll give my son pride and make him swallow it all

I sadly must have the same conversation with my son. I hate this

fact...but it is something I must do. No one should ever ask again why

any rapper speaks against the racism of American police departments or the

American justice system. They have been trying for decades to tell the

world how corrupt and broken this nation's courts are. Many times their

language is harsh, the visuals are ugly and the subject itself painful to

digest - but ignoring the voice of the youth has not helped the situation - and

the fire of legal injustice covered by the ashes of hollow democracy don't make

the nation any safer. Only honoring truth does. The truth is we can

do so much better than we are.

I have family members who are cops. Some of the friends I grew up

with listening to N.W.A. with are now police themselves. I know that

there are good hearted, well-intentioned police men and women of all races out

there. Victims of police brutality also come in all races and creeds as

well, and many of them have been denied justice too. Unfortunately, the

most horrific cases of police brutality continue to occur within the African

American community.

I find killer cops just as disgusting and appalling as cop killers, and I am a

committed advocate for non-violence. Yet I do not want to be here

ten years from now writing about my son, my neighbor's son or the son of one of

you reading this now. I don't want any more American parents feeling the

pain that the Bell

family is currently experiencing.

Malcolm X said before he was murdered that he planned to file a suit against

the United Stated for denial of human rights in the courts of the United

Nations. I believe that it is time to pick that torch up now.

Starting with the senseless murder of Sean Bell, African Americans can document

our case all the way back to Lincoln

signing the Emancipation Proclamation. The injustice is systematic, and

there is no other solution than making a case in the U.N. on the basis of human

rights violations. We do this not because we hate America. We

must do it to help create that "more perfect union" the founders

of this nation aspired to manifest.

The time is now. If we neglect to solve the problem in the world

courts, blood will continue to run in the streets. People are tired, and

people are beyond angry. What if police start randomly getting killed

too? Then what? America

cannot benefit on any level from an escalation of violence. It never has,

and black people in America

have never had greater opportunity, educational or technological ability to

confront the issue of police brutality and injustice. And American

citizens of other races and cultures have never had a finer moment to help

refine the American judicial system for all of of its citizens too. Sean

Bell cannot be just another victim of senseless police brutality. He must

be the last.

Adisa Banjoko author of Lyrical

Swords Vol. 1 & 2 and co-founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. He can be reached at