Many people in the United States, especially black people, have become fed up with the constant police brutality that somehow displays great consistency, even with repeated public backlash after every incident. How is it that black people are killed by police at such a large disproportion in this country?
Is there something inherent to black culture that makes this discrepancy acceptable? Is there some form of intrinsic quality of unquenchable violence within the average black person that renders this high level of police violence completely necessary, or at the very least, understandable? Where the first question may depend on the specific case, and would involve compiling numerous studies that attempt to understand police rationale for discharging their weapons, the other questions can be answered with a resounding no. But at the same time, it is complicated.
The complication involved in answering the question about ‘black thuggery’ and its relation to police brutality is that it does not have to be real in order to cause a very real effect. The discourse surrounding the police related deaths of Laquan McDonald, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray (died in custody), have all at some point asked the question of ‘would they still be alive if this black person did not look/act like a thug’? To some, this may seem like a benign retrospective ‘what if’, but what this actually does is reinforce the idea that something about black apparel, black speech, and black culture as a whole, promotes the idea that these persons are ‘dangerous’. Some may feel that this is taking too great of a leap, but take the example of Mr. McDonald. McDonald was avoiding police requests, while holding a knife in his hand, but his location at the time of his murder shows that he was too far removed for his knife to be a danger to anyone except himself. Regardless, he was seen as more of a life threat to police than the Planned Parenthood gunman, who, by his media-named title, must have obviously been more of an immediate threat than McDonald, and his alleged crimes more than affirm this. The facts show us that there should have been no question as to who is the more immediate threat to police.
What this illustrates is that there must be some invisible piece of evidence skewing the threat level that police responders perceive when arriving on a scene. This all points to the idea of the ‘black thug’ as, at the very least, an inflammatory factor involved in the cops rationalization process. White cops are not the only ones to accidentally, or purposefully, adhere to these notions. Cops of all races have been known to be especially brutal towards black citizens. The appropriation of black culture in music provides the best evidence as to how some Americans often perceive the ‘typical black person’, and how this notion gets easily reproduced.
For example, take the life and career of rapper, Rick Ross. One would automatically consider him to be a thug. Between the lyrics in his songs, his clothes, and the rappers he is associated with, it would be ‘clear’ for one to depict him as a thug. The irony is William Leonard Roberts II (Rick Ross) went to on a football scholarship for a year, and worked as a corrections officer for almost two years, before starting his first rap record label. He actually took his rap name from the famous drug kingpin, “Freeway” Rick Ross.
The appropriation of ‘black’ culture was so easy for Rick Ross to adopt because of societal notions of black men. No one questioned Rick Ross’ validity in being a thug because it is so easy to assume that he is, in fact, a thug. The problem is that people can actually assume an identity, without question, because their culture, and race, are so intertwined with an identity. Sadly, for black people, this identity is thugism. So, people like Rick Ross can assume an identity, rap about violence and drug trafficking and can be believed, and wrongly judged, by all. Who’s to say there are not numerous other rappers that are acting, and falsely portraying this frowned upon lifestyle? It is time to pause and wonder why we automatically assume that every rapper is a hardcore, negatively perceived, thug.
- Kyle Josias and Myles Gaines