I finally sat down and watched Straight outta Compton, a biographical drama about the formation of NWA in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. I thought it was a great movie; the acting, directing, storytelling and music was fantastic. I was super-impressed with the film in its entirety and would definitely recommend anyone watch it regardless of their interest in NWA.
Oddly, it was very nostalgic to watch a film set in Southern California during this time period. While I was young then, I did live in Los Angeles in the 1980’s and early 90’s. I remember listening to the news and hearing about the Bloods and the Crips. Gang violence was a real problem, and a threat to society. Some gas stations would have multiple murders a week because of someone wearing blue or red in the wrong gang’s territory. It was crazy times in Southern California.
What I also remember vividly is the Rodney King trial. Considering recent events, I am disappointed and shocked that I hadn’t reflected on the Rodney King trial until I was watching it all over again. I reflected on the day the verdict was read, and having to evacuate at school because of the potential (and inevitable) riots. I recall driving through the streets that had been ravaged by the riots. I also remember the concurring conversation in the media about the major crack-cocaine epidemic that was taking many lives, mostly those in the black communities.
So while watching Straight outta Compton, I kept getting distracted from the purpose of the movie, the beginning of NWA and rap music, by the complete disgust at how far backward our country has moved in terms of racial relations and police brutality. It’s absurd to say but, remember the days when being black made you just more likely to get beat up by a police officer, rather than get murdered? I’m not saying either is appropriate, nor just, but at least in one scenario children don’t lose their fathers and mothers don’t lose their sons.
What does it say about our society that we have witnessed this downward spiral of police brutality and have done absolutely nothing to try to fix it? We have chosen to just accept police shooting innocent men on a regular basis without any accountability. It is now obvious that the Rodney King case was just the catalyst to decades of police brutality escalation and our continual acceptance of the unadulterated abuse of power.
Once Clinton got into office, there was a shift in policy to focus on gang violence and the crack epidemic. President Clinton signed the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act into law, and we can mostly agree, upon reflection, it had several unintented consequences. But in the 1990’s, after it passed, we saw immediate positive results. While we now know the methods were not appropriate and the reasons for these reductions could be related more directly to getting crack-cocaine off the streets, we have a crime rate, less than half of what it was in 1992.
Recently, Hillary Clinton has was asked about this by members of the Black Lives Matters movement, and she acknowledged the unintented consequences of her husbands policy and has some policy ideas directed at solving them, like prision reform and drug reform. She also has made it clear that she wants to help unite the black community so they too can contribute to the solution, like they did with her husband in 1994. I think millineal blacks forget how intrical the black community was to passing this legislation. This wasn’t something the Clinton’s just pulled out of thin air. It was a policy that was built with feedback from the black community. Keep in mind, crack-cocaine related deaths were high, and disproportionately in the black community. So while many, if not all knew then it wasn’t perfect, they were in crisis mode and had to do something. And while it wasn’t perfect, we pulled together and made progress. We just unfortunately stopped and haven’t made reforms since.
Given the level of blame the Clinton’s have faced for this crime bill, you’d think it would be a big thing on the Trump hit list when going up against Hillary. Many black voters would agree with Trump if he said the Clintons were responsible for the unjust incarceration rate of blacks. That would be an easy pitch honestly, because it’s partially true (I’d argue politicians have had decades to fix these laws, but that’s another discussion). But instead Donald Trump did the complete opposite at last week’s RNC acceptance speech.
His speech was the scariest shit I have ever seen from someone so close to the White House. Trump’s speech outlined a vision of America that was very grim. If we aren’t killed by a muslim, then it will be a mexican or black man. Police need more power, the American military needs more power, and we need to fight for “law-and-order.” I am trying to not be hyperbolic, but let’s be honest, the America he described is hopeless, weak, and again, just some really scary shit.
After quivering in fear, I stepped back and returned to earth, and I realized nothing he said was true. We don’t live in a scarier country today than we did in the 1990’s. We are actually safer now than we were then. The economy is doing pretty darn well. People are getting jobs now, but their wages haven’t grown nor will they ever catch up to the likes of the past generations. And while police brutality is getting fucking horrible, we are getting a consenscus in the government at a local, state and federal level that crime policy needs to be reformed to be less punitive and more restorative. The right conversations are starting to happen, especially after the tragedies in Dallas.
But Donald Trump took the stage and threw away all of our learnings from the past 20 years. He doesn’t think the 1994 crime bill was bad, he thinks it wasn’t hardcore enough. That we need to basically run a police state and shut down the borders. Torture people more, kill terrorist’s families, and start wars whenever someone looks at us the wrong way or won’t pay a bill. All of which is exactly the type of behavior that paralyzes us at a time when we need action. That divides us when we need togetherness.
As individuals, and as Americans, we need to all take a step back, learn from our mistakes and try to come together to find solutions. We cannot let ourselves be divided, and feel like we live in a world of “us vs. them.” We are all in this together, whether we like it or not. And while sometimes it feels hopeless, it is not as bad as we think. We live in a scary world, but no scarier than 20 years ago. We cannot let our fears drive our decisions. Good policy doesn’t come from believing in one man or woman, nor by emotionally reacting to gut instincts. It comes from coming together and talking.
Breaking down the walls between us is going to require being honest, accepting and most of all, the ability to communicate openly. Whites need to understand that when someone says #white privilege, that doesn’t mean you didn’t work for what you have. Just like when you see someone say #alllivesmatter, that doesn’t mean they don’t acknowledge the injustice the black community has disproportionately suffered. We cannot be defensive, but instead open to understanding a perspective other than our own.
So going back to Straight outta Compton, where the fuck is Ice Cube when you need him? I am disappointed that Ice Cube hasn’t come out with an album, or at least made vocal commentary around the plight of the black community today. He too should remember the 1990’s version of police brutality as it inspired one of NWA’s most legendary songs, so I could only imagine he has a perspective worth hearing. I do appreciate Beyonce for her most recent work on Lemonade, a great conceptual and visual album, but I would love to see more black artist take on these issues and get active in politics. Art gives us a perspective of those things outside of us and from that empathy can grow. And God only knows, the whole world could use that right now.