Thank you, Anderson Cooper. On AC360 last night, he featured an interview with anti-violence advocate Geoffrey Canada of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a man who has had enough with the violence, misogyny and cultural dysfunction that has surfaced in hip-hop and is reflective of a deeper problem to solve. He pointed out, with enthusiasm and bravery, that the pathology that has taken hold is wholly destructive, complex and deep-seated. It is generated by the pressures of societal disenfranchisement, violence, lack of quality education, and (well-founded) lack of trust in the police and judicial system. What has raised the pathology to an insane level is that this sad situation provides a payday for record executives and artists who know exactly what they are doing.
The sad truth is that there are no easy fixes when you have a culture of anti-snitching that has developed (its roots in the mistrust of abusive police and now amplified by the music) that allows murderers to get away because of a code of silence.
CANADA: People are walking around with shirts. People are going out making — making music. People are saying things that, if you’re a snitch, it’s like being an Uncle Tom was when I was growing up. It’s like, you can’t be a black person if you have a set of values that say, I will not watch crime happen in my community without getting involved to stop it.
COOPER (on camera): This slogan, this stop snitching, it now extends to rape, robbery, murder, really any crime?
CANADA: Any crime. It’s like we’re saying to the criminals, you can have our community. Just have our community. Do anything you want, and we will either deal with it ourselves, or we will simply ignore it. ‘
What’s even more depressing is that this topic is so radioactive that Canada’s family was concerned about him appearing on national television to discuss the problem.
COOPER: You know, people are afraid, though, to talk about this. I know even for the “60 Minutes” interview, your family was worried about you being so vocal about this.
CANADA: Yes, well, you know, I told my family, I’m not naive. There’s a big — this is big business. There are a lot of people who stand to lose a lot of money if they see this thing begin to fall apart.
And by the way, I think we’ve seen the first signs of this thing changing. And I keep telling them this is not about rap ending. It’s just about it evolving to the next level.
Should our people be worried? There are people who have died. There are people who have died, people who have been killed and certainly people who have been killed for causing a lot less of a financial loss than maybe this might cause to big music and to big entertainment in America.
But the question is, what’s going to happen to this generation of black people if we continue down this pathway? And I’m going to tell you something, I don’t see a happy ending to this at all.
More, including big artists who promote this attitude, after the flip.The AC360 piece covers the murder of Israel Ramirez, a bodyguard for the rap star Busta Rhymes, who was gunned down last year. There were more than 20 people who witnessed the murder, including Busta Rhymes, and no one has come forward, according to New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who said that some who were interviewed simply said that “I have to work in this business” as a reason for not speaking to police. Of course that’s nothing new, since neither the murders of Tupac Shakur (1996) and the Notorious B.I.G. (1997) are also unsolved because of a lack of people willing to come forward.
Cooper interviewed a group of inner city teens and pre-teens about “snitching” and you see the depth of the problem, the unbelieveable cultural reinforcement that allows the lawlessness to continue. Police brutality, the lack of response when police are called, the clear gulf of opportunity between rich and poor have all contributed to the creation of this toxic social stew.
COOPER: So how — with the stop snitchin’, how do — how do you reverse it now? Is it just — you said it’s — people in positions standing up and saying, “We’re not going to tolerate this.”
But how do you — I asked these kids whose we interviewed in the “60 Minutes” piece, all of whom have witnessed crimes and none of whom have talked to police and all of who knew it was wrong in one sense that they should talk to police if they’ve witnessed as murder. But they said look, these are the rules.
CANADA: I think this is part of the problem and this is where people get frustrated because you can’t go into these communities and simply say to kids stop snitchin’. If you’re not going in with a way for them to get an education, if you’re not going in with a way for them to get a job, if you’re not going in with an answer, and part of that answer is that we have to live in a community of order and rules. And if you’re not going with that, no, they don’t want to hear from you.
As far as they’re concerned, you’re just passing through with some words of advice and you’re going to be gone and you’re going to have to live with the same terror that they’ve been living with up until now.
If you live in a place where people carry guns routinely, where people enforce the law at the point of a gun and you really believe that the police are not going to believe there nor any other adult to help you, it’s hard to hear this sort of a theoretical conversation.
Speaking as someone who lived in NYC (in Bedford-Stuyvesant) during the crime-ridden mid-70s and 80s, you didn’t expect to see a police car come by if you were robbed or mugged. If they did swing by, there was a good chance, particularly if you were a young black man, that you would be roughed up even if you were the victim. Thankfully that didn’t happen to my brother (who was robbed at gunpoint two blocks from our house), or my mother (who was mugged, knocked down by a thug a block from our home, her bag snatched). In both cases we did call the police, but hey — this was NY in the 80s — none of those crimes were considered serious or solved, not when the crack epidemic in the city at the time rendered these minor crimes. Plus, the general feeling was that police didn’t take any crime in minority neighborhoods seriously unless it spilled into white neighborhoods. It was a horrid time back in those days.
Cooper also spoke with rapper Cameron Giles (Cam’ron/Killa Cam), who himself has been shot. Giles laid it on the line from his perspective — “Because, with the type of business I’m in, it would definitely hurt my business. And the way that I was raised, I just don’t do that. I was raised differently, not to tell.” And he’s not kidding.
COOPER: If there’s a serial killer living next door to you, though, and you know that person is, you know, killing people, would you be a snitch if you called police and told them?
GILES: If I knew the serial killer was living next door to me?
GILES: No, I wouldn’t call and tell anybody on him, but I would probably move. But I’m not going to call and be like, you know, the serial killer is in 4-E.
The fact of the matter is that this music being popularized and glamorized by record companies and their artists are purposely fomenting this. Anderson Cooper had an exec tell him off the record that it’s all about money for them, and creating conflict between rappers is part of the act, even if it ends up playing itself out in the real world of intra-rap violence.
COOPER: Is targeting the record companies also a way to go? Is pointing out, you know, the lyrics, pointing out who it is who’s profiting? Because they’re making big money from this stuff.
CANADA: My understanding is this is the cheapest way for a record company to make money maybe in the history of music. You don’t need orchestras. You don’t really need any music. You don’t have to spend money on developing talent and teaching them how to dance and you just need a bunch of kids to say a bunch of horrible things and look tough and mean and dangerous. And there’s a good chance that you can sell a million records.
COOPER: Someone who is involved in the record industry said to me off the record that these decisions, like what rapper is going to feud with what rapper and who’s going to call who a snitch, these are actually decisions made and encouraged by record companies. They say to the artist, look, can you get in a beef with 50 Cent or can you get in a beef with, you know, The Game? And it will help propel sales.
CANADA: You know, one of the scary things about this business is that everybody understands that what’s driving it right now is some sense of credibility that you are a criminal, a gangster and potentially a murderer. The closer you can get to those kind of things, the more people want to listen to your music. Now, that’s dangerous and that’s scary.
And you know, people use that as sort of the juxtaposition of why we can’t change the music. Everybody wants to listen to this music, but this is what I tell folk. This music is aimed at sort of folk who are emotionally at a level like middle school kids. This is you beat me; I beat you back up. You hit me, I hit you harder. You shot me, I shoot you. You have a gun, I have a machine gun. I mean, it goes on and on and on.
We go through that period as men, and we get to a place where we learn to deal with differences and problems in a different way. As long as you are keeping that aimed at that emotional level, then you can never have enough cursing, you can never have enough violence, you can never have enough exploitation of women and denigration of women. It just gets worse and worse and worse, and that’s what we’ve seen happening over the last 20 years.
Thank you, thank you. Is the tide turning? Can we please see more voices like Canada’s in the MSM, and less of the apologists for what’s gone wrong?
Poverty, misery, lack of economic opportunity and drugs have addled minority populations for ages, but the reality is that the level of commercial exploitation of this situation by members of those communities (and their boardroom enablers) is shameless and immoral. And, it’s not simply a problem that can be addressed solely from within the black community either — the third rail of race prevents a lot of discussion, what you often see is the dominant culture saying — “look over there” as if this problem isn’t a result of systemic racism perpetuated on our society that has bloomed into a toxic weed.
What’s different is that those who are profiting from the misery, death, violence and misogyny — who should know better — need to look in the mirror at what they are doing to their own communities. As Canada says, someone has to draw a line.
While he’s at it, I’d love to see Canada and the MSM hold these same people accountable for fomenting homophobia. None of it is acceptable.
An aside — the neighborhood I lived in back in the 80s, Stuyvesant Heights — home to many middle and working class blacks who own their homes, experienced a major comeback in the 90s to the present. The irony of it all — a lot of young white professionals are moving there for the larger, less expensive apartments, the spacious, historic brownstones, and close proximity to the A train, only a few stops from Manhattan. Crime is down, real estate prices are skyrocketing.
As is the case in most large cities, you only have to go a few blocks to see the same socioeconomic devastation that this group of leeching hip-hop artists likes to exploit for their “street cred.”