Police Terrorism or Just a Friendly Game of Baseball?
I am a therapist who uses rap music in my work with young people, and I enjoy teaching those I work with things about hip hop culture. I love to tell the story of how Nas was first featured on “Live at the Bar-B-Que,” a track on Main Source’s “Breakin Atoms” album, but with all of the police brutality in the news lately, I probably should be telling them about another track on that album. “Just a Friendly Game of Baseball” metaphorically describes police brutality, and the first few words of this song came to mind as soon as I learned that 18 year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed in Missouri last Saturday.
“Aaww shit! Another young Brother hit / I better go over my man’s crib and get the pump / cause to the cops shootin’ Brothers is like playin’ baseball / and they’re never in a slump” – Large Professor
This song by Main Source was released in 1991, but 23 years later, Blacks in this country are still being victims of Police Terrorism. An unarmed Michael Brown was shot and killed by police who said that “he went for an officer’s gun” (now that’s original), but a few days earlier, John Crawford was shot and killed when he was in a Walmart holding a toy rifle that he told officers “wasn’t real.” Men haven’t been the only victims of this recent brutality, as we’ve seen videotape of women (who were grandmothers) being terrorized. In Los Angeles, a police officer straddled Marlene Pinnock and repeatedly punched her in the face, and in New York City, male officers dragged a nearly naked Denise Stewart into a crowded hallway. All of these incidents happened a few weeks after America witnessed the video of an unarmed Eric Garner being murdered by New York City police officers who used a choke hold when arresting him.
Immediately after Garner’s death, newspapers highlighted his medical challenges – him being an obese diabetic who had sleep apnea and severe asthma. These reports seemed to “blame the victim,” and they tried to make it seem as though “it was Garner’s fault that he died.” Then, after the Medical Examiner ruled his death a homicide that resulted from a chokehold, Pat Lynch (peep the last name), the President of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, stated in an article that “if Garner hadn’t resisted arrest, this tragedy wouldn’t have happened.”
As a therapist, I recognized that those associated with the NYPD were experiencing cognitive dissonance. In a lecture on “Post Traumatic Slave Disorder,” Dr. Joy DeGruy described cognitive dissonance as the mental conflict a person experiences when they behave in a way or are introduced to facts that contradict their beliefs. Dr. DeGruy contends that since it’s difficult to function with this dissonance (or contradiction), people remove it by changing their beliefs. It seemed like those associated with the NYPD tried to make themselves believe that Garner’s death was “his fault and not theirs.”
In her lecture on “Post Traumatic Slave Disorder,” Dr. DeGruy implied that initially, slave owners experienced cognitive dissonance, as they questioned how they, white Christians who were superior and more civilized than any other people, could treat slaves so savagely. They believed that human beings shouldn’t be treated the way that they treated slaves, so by changing their beliefs about the slaves and dehumanizing them, they removed the dissonance and were able to continue their barbaric treatment of them. Dehumanizing slaves was an easy thing to do, especially since at that time, slaves were counted as only 3/5 of a person and considered creatures without Christian souls.
I’ve witnessed many instances of police brutality, and police officers justify using excessive force when they feel that you’re resisting arrest. Resisting arrest can be defined as 1) fleeing from, attacking, or threatening a police officer while being arrested or 2) physically struggling to avoid being restrained, handcuffed, or put into a police vehicle. In the arrests I’ve witnessed, it seems like police consider ANY movement you make while being arrested you “physically struggling to avoid being restrained,” and this even includes defensive movements where you try to block punches, kicks, or baton strikes. Since these movements stem from an instinctual desire to protect yourself, it may be unreasonable to expect you to remain motionless while being arrested.
When you are arrested, you may experience a heightened sensitivity (or fear), and the level of fear is proportionate to the arresting officer’s temperament. If the officer is aggressive, then you may experience “fight or flight,” an automatic response that humans have when their survival is threatened. When a threat is perceived, the human body automatically produces adrenaline, the heart beats faster, and more oxygenated blood is sent to the larger muscles.
If you’re wrestled to the ground, the crushing weight of several officers will make you frantic, and you respond to being punched and kicked by curling up (in a fetal position) and covering your face and head with your arms and fists. Officers may think that you’re pulling your arms away to avoid being handcuffed, but you’re really trying to block the punches and kicks. The struggle that results from you trying to curl up (in a defensive position) and the officers trying to force you to lie flat with your hands behind your back (a vulnerable position) ends when you get tired and become limp and motionless. This struggle usually lasts a few seconds, as two or three well-trained officers can easily subdue an average sized person. However, Eric Garner was a larger than average man, so officers wrestled with him a little longer and even put him in a chokehold. After a few minutes, the struggle ended when Garner became limp and motionless. Unfortunately, he was limp and motionless because he was dead.
“and legally they cant’ take a fall / yo check it out it’s just a friendly game of baseball” – Large Professor
Although Garner’s death was ruled a homicide, as of yet, no one has been charged. I read that the person who administered the choke hold was put on desk duty until the end of an investigation, but that seems more like a paid vacation than punishment for murdering someone. Sadly, this is usually how these situations play out, as over the years, we’ve seen people brutalize and kill Black people with impunity. This may be because the laws in this country dehumanize those who “resist.” I know that sounds harsh, but it’s not too far fetched, especially when you consider that The Virginia Slave Act of 1705 was a set of laws that allowed white Christians to beat, torture, and kill slaves without being punished. One such law, The Casual Killing Act (from 1690), stated that if a slave resisted his master, the master had the right to correct him, and if the slave died as a result of the correction, the master would be acquitted of all punishment as if the accident never happened.
I “get it now.” If a person is beat or killed while being arrested by the police, it’s not a crime. It’s even justifiable because the person being arrested was either “resisting” or “being corrected.” So how can we stop Blacks from being victims of Police Terrorism? Protests and riots don’t seem to work because as soon as the disturbances are over, things return to normal. So what else can we do?
“my life is valuable and I protect it like a gem / instead of cops shootin’ me, I’m goin’ out shootin’ them – Large Professor
For years, there have been artists who, in their lyrics, speak about defending themselves “by any means necessary.” A few days ago, Michael Coard, the self proclaimed “angriest Black Man in America” took to social media and posted about one such artist. Coard, a defense attorney and activist from Philadelphia who also considers himself “Nat Turner with a law degree,” posted that the other day would have been the 65th birthday of Mark Essex, a Black man who, for a week, “went to war” with the “racist and thuggish” New Orleans Police Department. Coard, who honed his skills “breaking down lyrics” while being the professor of the Hip Hop 101 class at Temple University, posted that the lyrics from the Gill Scott Heron song “Inner City Blues” described Essex killing nine people (five of them police officers) and injuring 13 others before being killed by police officers who shot him more than 200 times. Beanie Sigel is an artist who seems willing to use “any means necessary” to defend himself, and in the song “Life,” he also has lyrics that speak to self protection.
“fore they kill me like Cornbread, do me like Diallo / before I’m stuck like Louima, I’ll be up with Mumia” – Beanie Sigel
Ronald Crawford is a mental health professional who is the founder of Honesty Hurts Publishing and Counseling. He’s also the author of Who’s the Best Rapper? Biggie, Jay-Z and Nas, a book that uses an analysis of rap lyrics and hip hop culture to teach basic counseling and social skills. Connect with him on facebook or by emailing at [email protected] (books can be purchased by using this email address or by going to www.amazon.com ).