How can it be, that in the year 2020, people are still dying while in police custody. How many more deaths at the hands of the police do we need to watch on social media, while the powers at be deny any wrongdoing. How many more black lives need to be extinguished before we face the realities of racism within the government and their police force. There are so many questions that need answering. And a general lack of answers.
This is what I have learned so far in 2020; the powers that be fear us. This is the second time in as many weeks that a murderer that was left free despite video evidence was arrested following online social media pressure. This officer and the two degenerates that shot and killed a jogger for no other reason than suspecting him of burglaries, that may not have even taken place, would have remained free if not for the presence of social media.
I witnessed racism from a police officer myself. First hand. I had been arrested for a bar altercation, with two friends of mine. It was a frigidly cold night and police station holding cells aren’t the most cozy of places. We were given blankets and pillows to spend the night in the cell, but a black man our age was also in there with us, without a blanket or pillow. It was just the four of us. Three white males and this other man none of us knew. Naturally, we began to holler and make noise until an officer came to see what the problem was. Once he arrived, we explained the issue to the officer’s response of “So? Why do you care?” – eventually our noise making irritated the police officer enough for him to supply this man with a blanket and pillow. His crime, you might expect, must have been some form of heinous act, right? No. This man had been arrested for telemarketing fraud.
Right about now, as I write this, police stations in Minneapolis and New York are on fire. Smoldering away. There have been three full days and nights of rioting as angry civilians again make themselves heard. Another black man has been murdered, on video, by an officer of the law. Due to heavy pressure on social media and on the streets, the now former officer, Derek Chauvin, has been arrested. On charges of third degree murder. While rioting and destroying police stations won’t bring back George Floyd, it will point the limelight on a social ill. Hopefully bringing with it reform and change.
Music is an art form that has always been used to pass along messages through generations. Before history was recorded or written down, the song was the tool of message. It remains that way today. This is deeper than the murder of George Floyd, by four police officers. Only one of whom have been charged. The other three, by law, fall under accomplices and should share the same fate. This is about social reform and the dire need to renovate a system that is by and large racist. Sure, burning down buildings is wrong – but the people need to be heard. People need to stop dying in police custody.
When it comes to music, there is a long history of protest songs. Song calling for change. Songs about the troubles and strife’s of the average person. Any form of music that comes from the street level, be it hip hop, punk and hardcore or country music, bluegrass, reggae oi and so on, is music of the people. A way to pass along stories that truths the mainstream media and governments don’t want heard. These are rebellion songs. They are songs of freedom.
Some remain more iconic than others. NWA’s “Fuck Tha Police”, for example, is known by everybody. Protesters scroll the acronym ACAB whenever the need arises. Those four letters, which stand for All Cops Are Bastards, come from a song by the 4-Skins, titled “ACAB”. Five years after NWA wrote one of the most iconic songs in hip hop history, came KRS-One, with “Sound Of Da Police” – an equally iconic track. And of course, the great Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddamn”, a song by a women that had just had enough. This is the power of music. The sounds made by the people, for the people.
Below are ten of the most hard hitting songs. Each about a true story that involves injustice and police wrongdoing. About brutality and/or murders of innocent people, killed by those that are supposedly here to serve and protect the vox populi.
N.W.A “Fuck Tha Police” – 1988, from “Straight Outta Compton”
The father of all protests songs. N.W.A’s “Fuck Tha Police” was so potent upon its release that the powers at be tried to have it banned. When that failed, they tried to prevent the group from performing it live – through the use of force. The incident that lead to the creation of this track is well documented in the 2015 film, Straight Outta Compton. The song itself was released back in 1988 – and today, remains as perhaps the most notorious and most influential hip hop every recorded. The song provoked the FBI to write to N.W.A’s record company about the lyrics, expressing disapproval and arguing that the song misrepresented police. Yet, now more than three decades later, the fact remains that the song’s lyrics were, and are, painfully accurate. It is a testament to how little things have changed in that time, and that, is wrong on many, many levels.
Angelic Upstarts “Who Killed Liddle Towers” – 1979, from “Teenage Warning”
Like hip hop, punk rock has been a vessel often used for political stances. Racism and police brutality at the forefront. England’s Oi legends, Angelic Upstarts, unleashed this scathing track following the murder of Liddle Towers. An amateur boxer coach and electrician who died as a result of battery received while in police custody. Towers claimed to have been beaten outside of a popular night club by police officers, before being thrown into a van and dragged away. Once jailed, Towers was beaten by six officers before being released. The injuries he suffered would lead to his demise several days later. Towers told his friend “They gave us a bloody good kicking outside the Key Club, but that was nowt to what I got when I got inside”. An inquest into his death returned a verdict of justifiable homicide and wasn’t well reserved by the British public. Still, none of the police officers involved received any form of disciplinary action. As is the case in many of these situations.
The Proletariate “The Murder Of Alton Sterling” – 2018, from “The Murder Of Alton Sterling”
Keeping with the punk rock genre, The Proletariate released a song about the police murder of Alton Sterling. As the song and the EP’s name suggests. Sterling was shot dead by two officers outside a convenience store in baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sterling had been selling CD’s and was reported to be armed – as there had been reported robberies of other CD vendors in the area. It was announced that neither of the two officers would face charges, and that they had acted in a “reasonable and justifiable manner”. Both officers had previously been excused on charges of excessive force and video footage showed this to be the case once again. As a result, Louisiana and Texas fell into protests and rioting. Multiple officers were shot and killed, in retaliation, in the following days. The two officers involved would again walk away more of less un-reprimanded. Officer Salamoni was fired for violating use of force policies, while Officer Lake was suspended for three days for losing his temper.
Vic Mensa “16 Shots” – 2016, from “There’s A Lot Going On”
If you were looking over photographs or video footage of the current protests and riots, and wondered why the words “Fuck 12” had spray painted on police cars – this is why. It is part of the lyrical content of the track “16 shots”, by Vic Mensa. A song written about the police shooting of Laquan McDonald. Police had initially reported that McDonald was behaving erratically while walking down the street, refused to put down a knife he was carrying, and lunged at them. Preliminary internal police reports described the incident similarly and ruled the shooting justified and Van Dyke was not charged in the shooting at that time. However, three months later, that would change. Video taken from Van Dyke’s dashboard camera would tell a different story. McDonald had been walking away from the officer when he was shot sixteen times. Officer Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder and initially held without bail at the Cook County Jail. Van Dyke was found guilty of second-degree murder, as well as 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. He too, had previous accusations of having used excessive force. No disciplinary action had been taken against him.
J. Stalin “Officer Don’t Shoot” – 2016, from “Officer Don’t Shoot”
Also in 2016, J.Stalin released his track, “Officer Don’t Shoot”. A scathing track that blasted the police for their actions. It mentions the likes of Philando Castile, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, John Crawford and Sandra Bland. All of whom were victims of police brutality and murder. Philando Castile was stopped while driving and fatally shot by police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Despite Yanez being charged with second-degree manslaughter, he was found not guilty. The incident was filmed and the video became viral. Still, it wasn’t enough to earn a conviction for the trigger-happy officer – although he lost his job as a result. That fact is a small consolation for the exchange of life. Wrongful death lawsuits against the City, however, brought about by Castile’s partner Diamond Reynolds and Castile’s family were settled for $3.8 million dollars.
Vince Staples “Hands Up” – 2014, from “Hell Can Wait”
Vince Staples track, “Hands Up”, is about the shooting of Tyler Woods, an unarmed black man, who was shot 19 times during a fatal clash with police in 2013. The officers that fired the barrage of bullets, said they believed Woods, 19, was reaching for a weapon. While running from police during a vehicle stop, leaping across rooftops and over fences during a daring escape attempt. Woods was wanted on an armed robbery warrant at the time of the shooting, and was believed to be armed and dangerous. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office declined to charge Officers John Fagan and Daniel Martinez with anything, despite the excessive discharging of ammunition. A reported sum just shy of $3 million dollars was paid out to Wood’s family, which surely suggests wrongdoing on the part of the two officers.
Body Count “Cop Killer” – 1992, from “Body Count”
Long before he played a cop on television, Ice-T earned the ire of then American president George W Bush following his metal band’s track “Cop Killer”. It was written as a response to the brutal assault of a Los Angeles construction worker named Rodney King, who was severely beaten by police officers. The incident was filmed and reported around the world, sparking anger everywhere. King was shown being kicked and punched and stomped by no less than fourteen police officers. Of the fourteen officers, only four faced charges. Following the banning of the song, and the acquittal of the officers involved, Los Angeles would fall famously into full riot. Perhaps the most well-documented and known act of police violence to date. The result was chaos. Pure and simple. For six days and nights, Los Angeles would riot in the streets, prompting the deployment of the National Guard. By the time it was over, 63 people had died and another 2,383 were injured. The federal government prosecuted a separate civil rights case, where two of the four officers that were originally charged, where found guilty and sentenced to serve prison terms. The other two were acquitted of the charges. Although Body Count were forced to remove their song from their album, they gave out free copies of it instead.
Third Eye Blind “Cop vs. Phone Girl” – 2016, from “We Are Drugs”
About Shaka, family name with held, was violently attacked by a police officer for using her cell phone in math class. Shaka, at the time, was a high school student and minor. Student videos posted online showed Officer Fields telling the girl to leave her seat or he would forcibly remove her. The officer then wrapped his forearm around her neck, flipped her and the desk backward onto the floor, tossed her toward the front of the room and handcuffed her. He faced no charges for his actions, despite the public outcry. Again, the officer was fired – which doesn’t equate to any real form of punishment. The songs lyrics to the Third Eye Blind’s powerful song remain rather poignant today, asking Why’s it so hard to say Black Lives Matter? Doesn’t mean that you’re anti-white.
Mistah F.A.B. “6 Shots” – 2016, from “6 Shots”
The song’s title for Mistah F.A.B’s “6 Shots” comes from the number of bullets used to kill Alton Sterling at point-blank range, in a case we mentioned earlier. The rapper also makes mention of other unlawfully-killed Black innocents at the hands of they police. Such as Philando Castile – whom we also mentioned earlier, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant and Tamir Rice. Sadly, this is a whole plethora of names and cases to choose from when writing a song of this nature. I suppose that is the whole point of this song – and every other track on this list. Mistah F.A.B.’s tone is stone and his anger is palpable as he references Sterling’s murder. He even ventures that there’s been more outrage for the killing of Harambe, the gorilla shot dead at the Cincinnati Zoo, than for recent spats of police violence.
Pearl Jam “W.M.A” – 1993, from “Vs.”
We’ll let Pearl Jam’s front-man, Eddie Vedder, handle this one. “I think I’d probably stayed at the rehearsal studio the night before and it had been a couple of days since I had a shower and I’ve got my old shoes on and I don’t look too great, a little grunge on my teeth or whatever. And I’m sitting there with this guy who’s of a darker color than me, and along come these cops, they run around with their bikes trying to look cool. So here they come, they’re heading straight for us. And they just ignored me and started hassling him. Compared to me, this guy looks as respectable as fuck. But they started hassling him, and that just blew me the fuck away. So I started hassling them…And one thing led to another. I was just really wound up by it. I had all this fucking energy rushing through me. I was mad. Really fucking angry. I got back to the studio and the guys had been working on this thing and I just went straight in and did the vocals, and that was the song.”
These are just a sample of the many songs that can be found on the topic. Which is an indication at just how deeply rooted this global problem truly is. Hopefully, the current protests that are happening around the world, right now, will be enough to finally force change. I hope. I hope.