Amadou. Sean. Lovell. Oscar. Aiyana

Photo Courtesy of Thomas Hawk @ Now Public

(Young African American man, hand cuffed in police car, January 2009 after Oscar Grant Murder Protest in Oakland, I wish I knew his name.)

Amadou. Sean. Lovell. Oscar. Aiyana.

Oftentimes, when it comes to personal violence and race and structural violence and race, I turn to other writers, better writers who can capture how I feel.

Baldwin understood? and articulated the purpose of the police, arguably better than anyone else I have read.

This is all I can offer today on the Oscar Grant verdict, protests, looting and subsequent media coverage.

I hope that it helps.

Similarly, the only way to police a ghetto is to be oppressive. None of the Police Comissioner’s men, even the best will in the world, have any way of understanding the lives led by the people they swagger about in twos and threes’ controlling. Their very presence is an insult, and it would be, even if they spent the entire day feeding gumdrops to children. They represent the force of the white world, and what that worlds real intentions are, simply, for that worlds criminal profit and ease, to keep the black man corralled up here, in his place. The badge, the gun, the holster, and the swinging club make vivid what will happen should his rebellion become overt….

…there are few things under heaven, more unnerving than the silent, accumulating contempt and hatred of a people. He moves through Harlem, therefore, like an occupying soldier in a bitterly hostile country; which is precisely what, and where, hie is and is the reason he walks in two’s and three’s. – from Fifth Avenue Uptown

And here is another quote,

The projects in Harlem are hated. They are hated almost as much as policeman, and this is saying a great deal. And they are hated for the same reason: both reveal, unbearably, the real attitude of the white word, no matter how many liberal speeches are made, no matter how many lofty editorials are written, no matter how many civil rights commissions are set up. – from the essay Fifth Avenue Uptown

One one hand a Mehserle verdict was a slap on the wrist. On the other hand, white police, historically, have rarely been charged with? nor found guilty of killing Black people, unarmed or otherwise.

Amadou. Sean. Lovell. Oscar. Aiyana

Baldwin? “They represent the force of the white world.”

Thoughts on the verdict?

*note. it wasn’t until I began to look for photos for this post that I found myself crying inconsolably. It’s a combination of working really hard, lack of sleep and seeing these images of uncut Black rage.? The pictures made it real.? Feelings of survivors guilt. I do my part, and I am grateful for all of the gifts that I have. Looking at these images reminds me that I escaped a real serious East Oakland fate. I am a human being. How could I not feel something. I am from Oakland. How can I not feel something?

The Curse of Being a Black Artist

Ice Cube helped me in ’92

I think I have fallen in love with Camus (a dead white Algerian
philosopher who argues that the death penalty is premeditated
) and Anthony Hamilton simultaneously.

What does this have to do with being an artist? Everything,
simply because over the last few days I have been apart of
a few conversations on the tension between art and commerce.

Two days ago, on Twitter, Indieplanet and I were having a discussion
about art, commerce, Joe Budden/Vlad flap up.

indieplanet @mdotwrites Its a bigger issue of basic ethics.
Too many blogs/video sites decide at some point to exchange
ethics for page views.

indieplanet @mdotwrites Re: Budden/Vlad – What are your
thoughts on the whole situation. I think its a bigger picture that
video sites should consider.

indieplanet @mdotwrites Shouldnt it be possible to make a
contribution AND get paid?? It is possible (not common)
to change the game & have morals

Yesterday, Dart Adam’s sent me a link to an essay of his which outlined,
amongst many things, how the The Telecommunication’s Act
spearheaded mergers and acquisitions in radio and how these
changes impacted hip hop.

To cap it off, yesterday, Brooklyn Bodega posted a Facebook note asking
“Does Money Ruin it All?” He wrote,

the other day one of our family posted a comment that he was no fan of ‘Notorious’ because too many people had profited from its production. He cited Memebrs of Junior Mafia, Puff and I assume he also had a problem with Ms. Wallace as she looks to have been in charge and arguably received the largest check.

So the question is does the presence of money make it impossible to produce a work of pure artistic integrity?

The responses ranged from, “as long as the Wallace family is
then it is all good” to “making money is practical
for everyone including artists”,
and finally “this is a less of an
issue of the evils of capitalism and rather a question
of authenticity.”

Many of the comments reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of
capitalism and both how it has historically impacted art and how it impacts
hip hop and Black artists specifically.
Because capital is productive
property, there will always be a move to
exploit the the property to
obtain the most returns.

This is why we have 5 CSI’s, 6 Indiana Jones’s and Hannah Montana
dish towels.

Quality be damned.

Think about it, art is referred to as intellectual property for a reason.

And here is where the tension arises. If our music, our precious
Hip Hop
music began as a voice for the under represented, what does it mean
for us to be so silent about its current state of affairs?
And, if we are
silent, do we deserve better than what we receive? Why are we
so reluctant
to admit the way in which the market has impacted our art?

I have watched both Saul Williams and KRS rationalize getting
money with Fortune 500’s. And I thought to myself why
be coy, why not just say, “Ya’ll, I got bills to pay.”

Lets be clear, I do not claim to be on a pedestal. If Coke/Sony/Steve
Madden/ came calling and wanted to work with me and I chose to do so, I
wouldn’t turn around and say to you “Well the executives
at Coke/Sony/ like me, so this is a great partnership.” I would
understand that they want to rock with me because they feel that
I may be able to enhance their shareholder value. Simple as that.

So if you see my face and big {teeth} smile on the back of a Brooklyn
Erotica anthology at the end of the year, lets be clear, I had to pay
some bills and I am okay with that

I guess, I am really perturbed at the fact that we all clearly understand
the nasty bottom line of the Dope game, but when it comes to
the ways in which the nasty bottom line of Capitalism
affects our art
we get shook.

Statement was very similar to another statement that I read by
(pronounced Cam-moo, like shampoo.) In the essay
The Wager of our Generation, Camus writes,

The aim of art, the aim of life, can only be to increase the sum
of freedom and responsibility to be found in everyman and the world.
It cannot, under any circumstances be used to reduce or suppress that
freedom, even temporarily….

No great work of art has been based on hatred or contempt. There is
not a single true work of art of art that has not in the end addressed the
inner freedom of each person that has known and loved it.

In an interview on Verbalisms, ran by the phenomenal and formidable
(wink) Raquel Wilson, Dan Tres OMi interviews Wise Intelligent of PRT
on the role that
art and music plays in our culture. He writes,

There are quite a few people who feel that music that is created to raise the consciousness of a particular community is irrelevant in the age of what William C. Bansfield calls the post-album age wherein the music created is commercially driven and marketed to a specific segment of society. Wise Intelligent, the front man for the influential hip-hop group Poor Righteous Teacher, always felt and continues to feel that he was galvanized by the spirit of the people to take up the mic to educate the masses. It is a tragedy that Wise Intelligent, who penned one of the best odes to Black women with ?Shakyla,? is forgotten when it comes to bringing knowledge of self beat up and compressed into hip-hop form.

Where does Anthony Hamilton fit in? His album is the first one in
a very
long time, that both instrumentation wise and lyrically, has
helped me make sense
of my life. He has helped me be okay with
my new found freedom
. The irony is that it isn’t Hip Hop,
and because am notoriously
boom bap oriented and it feels weird.
I will add that Q-Tips The Renaissance has been in
rotation as well.

Anthony Hamilton also comes into play because the title of his
connects to an essential question asked by Camus, which
is what is the
point of life? While I do not have an answer to that, I
have been thinking about the roll that music plays in affirming
who we are.

In 1992, I had Death Certificate to make sense of what was going on
in LA, in the Streets of Oakland and in my family life.
What music do
the young bucks of today have to help them make
sense of their lives?

What music do they have to help them make sense of the rage that they
feel about the murder of Oscar Grant?

Black on Black Murder and Oscar Grant

It is simply impossible to have an intelligent discussion about Black
murder, without grounding it in political economy, history and

Over the weekend, the New York Times featured a piece by Tobin
Warsaw on the Oakland Riots
which is essentially about the ways
in which the double standard that some Black people have on Black on
Black violence versus white on Black violence.

In the post, Warsaw quotes Stanly Crouch who essentially
maintains that Black men are killing each other because they can
and that more black men have killed each other in the history
of American culture than white men ever have. One could easily
infer that Oscar Grant’s death is relatively small in the grand scheme.
There is nothing
restorative, just or humane about this line of thinking.
This logic is flawed. Crouch writes,

Before the victories of the civil-rights movement, many of the murders of black people during the most intense redneck reigns throughout the South were committed by those once infamously known as “poor white trash.” What is now so appalling is that the street gangs that currently terrorize black communities across the nation do so with astonishing levels of murder and mayhem, but they are so often defined by supposedly empathetic liberals?of any color!?as victims of race and class.

I never heard this glib hogwash when the murderers were white and the resultant corpses were black. No one ever explained that the lower-class rednecks, who were responsible for terrorist actions and murder, did so because their own wretched poverty made them feel desperately inferior to the white upper class of the South. When the killers were white, the issues were justice and injustice, not social station or income. Perhaps what they actually thought was that white people, unlike black people, have responsibility for their actions.

By shifting the focus from the murder of a Black man by the
in a city and a state that is notorious for sanctioning violence towards
Black people to the murder of Black men, by other Black men,
runs the risk of making light of the seriousness of the murder
of Oscar Grant.

Furthermore in the above quote, Crouch fails to take into consideration
that poor whites have always had
something that no Blacks have
every had, their whiteness

Crouch’s stance is also dangerous because it serves
to create a hierarchy of murder that doesn’t take into consideration
the historical violence against Black people in this country and the ways
in which the legal and political system have united to perpetuate
oppression towards Black people.

Redlining, 3 Strikes, The 1986 Anti Crime Bill, Welfare Reform, Jim Crow.
Call it “The Confluence.”

Conflating the murder of a black man by a a white cop serves to only mystify
and conceal the issues at hand which are the historical violence that
Black men and women have suffered in this country, the financial
incentives associated with maintaining the prison industrial complex
and black anti black racism

Crouch, however, does get into why financial incentives involved
in remaining apathetic to Black on Black murder.
He writes,

The social and fiscal conservatives should be alarmed by?if nothing else?the billions this country has to pay for the murders, the rehabilitation, the mutilations, the disability, the psychological trauma, and so on. But no: whether on the left or the right, they are all pigs at a trough of clich?s.

Crouch mentions how expensive it is, but he fails to make a connection
the livelihoods supported by black crime.

I contend that one of the reasons why there is complacency around
the murders of
so many Black men is that the murder and
imprisonment of Black
men and women keeps a lot of people
. In small largely white towns around
the country prisons
have replaced steel mills and other factories as large employers.

Fernanda Santos of the New York Times writes about the impact of
the closing of prisons on rural towns,

As rural economies across the country crumbled in the 1980s and the population of prison inmates swelled, largely because of tougher drug laws, states pushed prison construction as an economic escape route of sorts. Throughout the 1960s and ?70s, an average of four prisons were built each year in rural America; the rate quadrupled in the 1980s and reached 24 a year in the 1990s, according to the federal Agriculture Department?s economic research service.

When we think about the economic incentives for policy decisions
surrounding the creation and privatizations of prisons then perhaps
we can have a different conversation about Black men, crime and

When I lived in Oakland last year and was looking for work, my cousin
who works at juvenile hall, offered to help me get a job. An entry level, the
position paid $60k. I was floored. To top it off, it was a union position

and because I had college and some graduate school I could have
probably earned
more than $60K. $60K is a lot of money to someone
who is looking for a job.

There is a connection between high unemployment, the easy
of guns, the drug/gun/murder culture in the hood,
and black anti black

I maintain that only when the ways in which these issues intersect,
and that the policy, budgetary and community decision address
the above issues, point for point, will we make any headway.

That being said, what would the non-profits, charter schools,
after school programs do if Black men weren’t killing each other?
What would they focus on then? What would rappers rap about?

Furthermore, what would the non-profit industrial complex do
without the prison
industrial complex?

While I think that Crouch’s argument about black on black and white
on black murder is flawed, I agree that the senseless
murdering of black men by black men needs to be addressed,
discussed and eliminated.

Let me be clear, I find the murder of Black men, by black
men to be racist.
They aren’t killing the symbols of power
that play a roll in upholding the system that oppresses them.
They don’t kill the judges, the correction officers,
the probation officer’s, task force or state troopers or
FBI agents.

They kill other black men.

Lewis R. Gordon a professor of Philosophy at Temple University
lays out the notion of Black Anti Black Racism, wherein he describes
how black people can act racist towards other black people.
Granted it is a difficult notion to swallow, but it is what it is.

Hate is hate.

I think that it is time that we cultivate dialectical thinking and dual

Contact Ella Baker Center if you want to help

Bart Police Kill an Unarmed Man, Oscar Grant, on New Years Day


Oakland haunts me.

Last week, I started trying to convert my essay’s on the
crack epidemic into a memoir and the above sentence
came to mind.

As many of you know, on early New Years day , the BART
police killed an
unarmed man, Oscar Grant.

I felt my heart flip in my throat when I heard the woman say
they just shot him.

Oakland haunts me.

I hate that moment. The moment in the hood where the violence
sparks and we have no fucking idea of what is going happen next.

Richard at Fem-men-ist captures it when he writes about being at the riots,

I head down 14th street towards Webster… and that’s as far as i get. A couple blocks further down, the crowd looms, and its a riot crowd. i can smell something burning, and Broadway is obscured with smoke that could be the source of the smell, or tear gas. A metal hulk slowly rolls out of a backlit cloud of smoke. it is a paramilitary tank with a mounted water cannon. Is this my neighborhood?

It is really easy to think of Oakland as the home of side shows, The Black
Panthers, the spiritual seat of pimp mythology. It is easy to think of Oakland
as San Francisco’s pathologized other.
However, there is a very
strong thread of Wild Wild West street justice
that permeates
the culture of Oakland. A shoot first and maybe ask questions later
steelo that is both reflected in how the police and how the hood
resorts to
violence to deal with rage and retribution. Furthermore
there is a shoot first and ask questions later attitude associated
with American foreign policy. Operation Iraqi Freedom anyone?

In fact the confluence of rage, revenge and retribution is palpable
in Oakland.

I shuddered when I read the account of a woman, Nia Sykes,
wax matter-of-factly about violence at the riot. She sounds cool as a fan,
but I know rage when I see it. Demian Bulwa and others from the San Francisco
Chronical write,

“I feel like the night is going great,” said Nia Sykes, 24, of San Francisco, one of the demonstrators. “I feel like Oakland should make some noise. This is how we need to fight back. It’s for the murder of a black male.”

Sykes, who is black, had little sympathy for the owner of Creative African Braids.

“She should be glad she just lost her business and not her life,” Sykes said. She added that she did have one worry for the night: “I just hope nobody gets shot or killed.”

Lets be clear, the riots didn’t happen until a week passed without a word
from BART executives.

Lets also be clear that it wasn’t until the riots occurred that national
news took an interest in what happened.

It is also important to note that the BART police are not OPD.
They are officers specifically hired, trained and compensated
by Bay Area Rapid Transit.
This merits being noted simply
because they earn $64K
per year, at the entry level. This is an important
distinction because they are not under compensated $32K/year
NYC cops.

That being said, Oscar Grants death is clearly personal to me. December
28th 2003,
at approximately 5am the Oakland police tried to kill my brothe

I had just came home from New York, fresh with my new engagement ring.
Ambivalent, proud, scared. In many ways, I felt grown.

My mother got the call at that deadly time of the morning. The
it could only be bad news time. My brother was at Highland Hospital.
That we needed to come. We piled in her boyfriends truck and headed
to Oakland’s public hospital, Highland. The sun was coming up.
The sky was orange sherbert and periwinkle blue. Gorgeous, the way
that the Oakland sky is notorious for.

I was in shock because we had just taken my niece to see Bad Santa
at the Metreon in San Francisco on 27th.

The police knocked teeth out of his mouth. Cut his lip open.
Opened his head. Handcuffed him to a fence and beat him, in front
of a group of eye witnesses in the heart of deep East Oakland.

I didn’t feel so grown anymore. I was scared of what the police
had done to my brothers face.

My brother ran from the police that night. Had been running for years.
They caught him,
and commenced to letting him know the
consequences of his actions.

I wrote the FBI, OPD’s internal affairs and John Burris
(the attorney for The Rider
Trails.) Burris’s office ultimatly
told me that while my brother suffered
from being harmed
by the police, a jury would not be particularly

receptive to a formerly convicted D-Boy, albeit even if he
wasn’t hustling

I also became intimately acquainted with Bay Area
Police Watch
, which is a program ran by the Ella Baker Center

for Human Rights. They were the only institution that listened to
me. They ultimately found an attorney to take my brother’s case
pro bono, however, by that time the statue of limitations had ran.
In many ways Ella Baker has inspired me to
start 100 Visionaries.

Back to Oscar Grant. This video reminds me of both the
historical worthlessness of the Black body,
as it pertains
to the state. Of lynchings, of Tuskegee syphilis experiments,
the bombing of Black little girls in churches, of Sean Bell, of, of, of.

It reminds me of 1989, Task Force in my living room,
my brother handcuffed, and feeling incredibly powerless.
It reminds me of how that situation on the BART platform
could have gotten even further out of hand
had someone
else on that platform had guns and decided to use them.
You see, I was raised to believe that everyone had a gat.
In the flat lands of Oakland many people do.

Let’s be clear about how this is a teachable moment about who
does and doesn’t have power in our society.

When you live in a society where the people who taken an oath
to serve and protect you, can conceivably smoke a person
who looks like you in front several witnesses.
You feel powerless.

Furthermore, it is reasonable for you to feel powerless and
want smash the
symbols of the power that you do not have.

Rage can only turn to violence when unchecked.

In many ways, rage is violence.

For many young folks, the idea is to carry a gat, because it is
clear that no one will protect them.
This means always staying

15 years ago, Ice Cube said on Death Certificate, “I would rather
be judged by twelve than carried by six.” This is the code of the
streets that I know.

Yes, there are major fallacies to this argument. To put it simply,
it invites that
eye for an eye logic, which is incredibly harmful,
because if we all do
an eye for an eye, we will all be blind.

But think about this, power is the ability to restore yourself after you
have suffered
a set back in life. To right a wrong.

What power do the people in this situation have?

BART possesses and has and exercised the power to be silent.

Some folks in Oakland exercised their power to burn property
and be destructive.

Think about this as well.

What does an Obama presidency mean to Oscar Grant,
Oscar Grants family,
or the people who were in Downtown
Oakland on Wednesday night saying “We Are All Oscar Grant.”

I know that some of you may balk at my bringing Obama in this.
Think about it this way. Where does Oscar Grant fit in our
“post racial” society?

I ask you all this question because last year it was
revealed to me that part of
my purpose is to ask the
uncomfortable questions. Not just affirm what you already know.

On Wednesday morning, someone Twittered me a message
asking if I was going to the protest. I responded saying
that I was not in Oakland, and that I don’t do protests.

However, I also thought, if the BART police will smoke a man
on a BART platform in front of arguably 20 to 30 witnesses,
then what would stop the OPD from smoking other people
at a rally/protest riot?

That being said.

Oakland haunts me.

But I am not only just haunted. Courtney stays on me about
100 Visionaries. Last week, I sketched the website and now
I am just looking for a template and finalizing a color scheme.

Shooting incidents like these remind me that so much work
has to be done. As individuals we can stand and be reactive,
bumping gums all day about how horrible the police are.
Or, we can be reflective, strategic and decide exactly which
part of the system we are going to come together to analyze
and change.

I ride for the analyze and change approach, because while
Oakland still haunts me, my goal, god willing, is to be able to
rest assured that at the end of the day I contributed something
other than just hot air.

If you want to get involved contact the Ella Baker Center for
Human Rights
. They are on the ground. They are organized
and they can use your help. Below I have attached an excerpt of
and e-mail I just received from them.

This week, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights joined the call for justice in the shooting of Oscar Grant III, a 22-year old unarmed man shot dead by a BART police officer on January 1st, 2009, at the Fruitvale BART station. As an organization that has tackled the issue of police brutality and accountability for the past 12 years, we share in the anger, sadness, and frustration this tragedy has stirred within our community and beyond.

Several Ella Baker Center staff members — and many of you — attended the January 7th rally at the Fruitvale BART Station. We were joined by hundreds of other activists from all over the Bay Area, a crowd that mirrored the incredible diversity of our region. Youth read poetry inspired not only by their pain, but also by their hope for justice; elected officials stood with the community; activists led chants and local performers shared their souls through song. It was a sight to behold.

As you may have heard, some people then led a march from Fruitvale to the Lake Merritt BART station. While most of the march was peaceful — and at times even beautiful — a small number of participants succombed to their overwhelming anger, rooted in a long history of police misconduct and lack of accountability, and lashed out with inexcusable behavior. The Ella Baker Center believes the fight for justice must sometimes be taken to the streets, and does not condone vandalism or the destruction of property while speaking truth to power.

That’s why we must keep our focus on the issue of justice for Oscar Grant and his family. We’ll need your help as we continue to speak out in protest to ensure that this case is handled with respect and urgency.

Specifically, we demand:

  • A thorough, independent investigation into the training, supervision, and arrest procedures of BART police.
  • A full criminal investigation to be conducted by the State Department of Justice of all officers involved in the shooting that evening.

In addition, we’re joining forces with the Courage Campaign and to support a bill by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and Senator Leland Yee that would create a civilian oversight board for BART police. Senator Yee and Assemblymember Ammiano are ahead of the curve in calling for this kind of legislation, and they’ll need our support to get it passed and signed into law. Click here to sign the petition:

Please also join us in helping turn this tragedy into hope for change by making a donation to Oscar’s family. Checks should be made payable to “Wanda Johnson” (Oscar’s mother), and sent to Ella Baker Center at 344 40th Street, Oakland, CA 94609. We’ll then pass along all donations to Oscar’s family.

We are all deeply saddened by this tragedy and express our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Oscar Grant III. In the coming months we hope you’ll join us in demanding justice and continuing to work for peace and opportunity in our communities.

In solidarity,

Jakada Imani
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights