Friday, November 20, 2009

Hip-Hop Justice

George Washington University law professor Paul Butler and author of "Let's Get Free: A Hip Hop Theory of Justice," argues that hip hop reveals some difficult truths about America’s system of crime and punishment.

For example, Misunderstood," by Lil Wayne, which talks about the number of African-American men locked up (1 in every 9 black Americans contrasted to 1 in every 100 Americans) and he talks about the reasons why, including for using and selling drugs, a crime that blacks are disproportionately locked up for:
“I was watching TV the other day, right?
Got this white guy on there talking about black guys
Talking about how young black guys are targeted
Targeted by who? America

You see 1 in every 100 Americans are locked up
One in every 9 black Americans are locked up
And see, what the white guy was trying to stress was that
The money that we spend on sending a motherfucker to jail
Would be less to send his or her young ass to college

See, and another thing the white guy was stressing was that
Our jails are populated with drug dealers
You know, crack cocaine? Yeah, stuff like that
Meaning, due to the laws we have on crack cocaine and regular cocaine
The police are only, I don't want to say 'only,' right, but shit
Only logic by riding around in the hood all day and not in the suburbs”

Because crack cocaine is mostly found in the hood
And, um, you know the other thing is mostly found
You know where I'm going

But why bring a motherfucker to jail if it's not gonna stand up in court?
Because this drug ain't that drug
You know level 3, level 4 drug, shit like that
Ha ha ha, mmm hmm, I guess it's all a misunderstanding

And um, I sit back and think, well shit, us young motherfuckers
You know, that 1 in every 9
We're probably only selling the crack cocaine just because we in the hood
And it's not like they're suburbs, we don't the things that you have
Why? Ha, I really don't wanna know that answer

I guess we're just misunderstood huh, yeah
You know we don't have room in the jail now for the real motherfuckers
The real criminals,” – excerpt from Lil Wayne’s “Misunderstood”
Butler gives another example, "Sound of Da Police" by KRS-One. This song, although it’s a critique of the police for racial profiling, Butler says, it’s also a broader, theoretical critique of the way that we construct crime in the United States. KRS-One makes the point that, we, the people, stole our land from Indians, and built up our land with stolen people, therefore the very foundation of our justice system is deeply flawed. How can there be real justice on stolen land?
“That's the sound of da beast. That's the sound of da police…
Change your attitude; change your plan. There can never really be justice on stolen land…
Yeah, officer from overseer. You need a little clarity? Check the similarity. The overseer could stop you what you're doing. The officer will pull you over just when he's pursuing.” -- KRS-One from "Sound of Da Police"
"Danger" by Erykah Badu is the last example Butler gives. The song is about the collateral consequences of prison, about all the people who do time on the outside, mostly women and children. It's not just the person who's being locked up, who's being punished and how the criminal justice system ought to take that into account.

The United States incarcerates a greater share of its population than any other country in the world, but it is particularly high for young black high, that 50% of black men, aged 25-29 have a police record.


Anonymous,  16:37  

What's your deal? If you're so unhappy move.

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