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Fight the Power
Transcript of Fight the Power
368ISS - Race and Resistance in the United States, Coventry University
by Dr. Darren R. Reid
"Rap is our invisible TV network. It's the CNN that black people never had" - Chuck D Public Enemy
Rodney King Trial
Four officers, Stacey Koon, Laurence Powell, Theodore Briseno, and Timothy Wind were all indicted by a grand jury and charged with the use of excessive force.
All four were acquitted.
The jury was made up of one Latino, one Asian, and ten white members.
This led to the outbreak of violence ("riots") in parts of Los Angeles
King successfully sued LA, winning $3.8 million in damages and $1.7 million in legal costs.
1992 LA Riots
"Viewed from outside the trial, it was hard to understand how the verdict could possibly square with the video. Those civil rights leaders with whom I met were stunned. And so was I and so was Barbara and so were my kids" - George H.W. Bush
More than $1 billion in damages.
53 deaths, 2,383 wounded.
How does one interpret a riot? As a sign of criminal or anti-social influence, as power structures such as governments often claim they are, or as something more?
The 1992 riots (there were smaller riots in other cities) were a reflection of communal anger and significant tension within the standard hierarchy of society. The acquitall of King's assailants seemed to confirm long-held African American frustration with the LA police who, in effect, operated as a suppressive force which used physical and mental coersion disproportionately upon certain minority communities.
The riots were a show to the rest of the country how much tension existed in certain communities.
O.J. Simpson Trial
Former footbal star was tried for the murder of his ex-wife and her lover, Ron Goldman. Probably the most publicised and closely watch trial of the 20th century, Simpson was found not guilty by a predominantly Black jury.
The defence was able to successfully defend Simpson by turning the trial into a referendum on the LA police department. Among the shocking developments in the trial were excerpts from an interview given by Mark Fuhrman in which he talked openly about beating African Americans, depriving them of their rights, whilst using racial slurs.
Perhaps more so than any other event from this period, the trial of O.J. Simpson seemed to indicate just how fundamentally the African American community's trust in the LAPD had broken down.
"Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.
These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential."
From Donald J. Trump's Inaugural Address
The "Law and Order" Question
A common refrain from a certain type of politician, they identify themselves as the "law and order" candidate, creating, in the process, the fiction that their opponent somehow stands against this universal value system. Aside from suggesting something distasteful about their opponent, the "law and order" paradigm speaks to a dominant idea - that certain activities (such as rioting) are never justifiable and that perpetrators need to be punished, rather than the underlying causes understood or tackled.
The "law and order" candidate in 2016 spoke in a context of Ferguson Missouri and resurgent evidence of widespread violence and intimidation by dominant power structures and groups upon a large number of minority communities.
Fuck Donald Trump.
The growing militarisation of the police in the United States hinges upon the assumption that criminality has grown to such an extent that extraordinary measures are required to contain it. At first glance, this argument is not entirely unreasonable. However, consider:
Only particular types of perceived criminality are policed in this manner.
Those committing 'white collar' crimes, such as financial fraud, are not policed as a community in this manner.
Gang violence in some areas is indeed a very real issue, but scenes such as this suggest that it is an entire community which is being supressed, not the criminals that community needs to be protected from.
With widespread violence and intimidation, the level of trust between community and police force disappears, delegitimising the activities of the police.
The result is a community which is policed, rather than protected and the creation of a paradigm in which the police are no longer seen as protectors but as repressors.
Resistence to such orders need not be violent - indeed, it is through humanistic and artistic means than some of the most staunch resitance to it has occurred.
Years before the 1992 LA riots, Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and N.W.A's "Fuck the Police" were stinging indictments of a power system in which African Americans were racially profiled and prosecuted, effectively, for having the wrong skin and colour.
Hip hop, particularly the West Coast variety which emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was an open call to action against the dominant power structure.
As the dominant power structure was tied to the police it seemed to be a call to action against "law and order", whereas in reality it was a call to action in the name of justice.
Hip hop could, and often did, revel in anti-police fantasies, but these were a reflection of the times, rather than the dricing force of catalyst for such attitudes.
They reflected existing disenchantment, they did not create it.
Fuck the Police
Music to Protest the World By
The US has a long tradition of artistic and performance
types being used to stand-up to dominant power
structures. The Ghost Dance was a movement which
empowered Sioux Indians but greatly aggravated
white observers who feared Native American
empowerment of any kind.
With no prospect of a military victory, the Ghost Dance allowed the Sioux to at least stand in defiance, to redefine the contours of their lives and lived experiences.
A non-militaristic way to standing up to suppressive power structures.
As with later hip-hop, the dominant power structure resented this artistic stand.
Boasts that the Ghost Dance would make the Sioux impervious to bullets unnerved white observors.
As did the belief that that the whites would ultimately be overthrown by supernatural forces who would return the land to the Indians.
White power structures attempted to stamp out the Ghost Dance.
This policy ultimately led to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890.
It resulted in the deaths of 153 Lakota Sioux - mostly women and children.
Sioux Ghost Dance, September 1894
Straight Outta Compton, 1988
Fuck the police coming straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad cause I'm brown
And not the other color so police think
they have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, cause I ain't the one
for a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
to be beating on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fucking with me cause I'm a teenager
with a little bit of gold and a pager
Searching my car, looking for the product
Thinking every nigga is selling narcotics
Fuck the Police
Words by Ice Cube and MC Ren
1989 the number another summer (get down)
Sound of the funky drummer
Music hittin' your heart cause I know you got soul
(Brothers and sisters, hey)
Listen if you're missin' y'all
Swingin' while I'm singin'
Givin' whatcha gettin'
Knowin' what I know
While the Black bands sweatin'
And the rhythm rhymes rollin'
Got to give us what we want
Gotta give us what we need
Our freedom of speech is freedom or death
We got to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say
Fight the power
Lemme hear you say
Fight the power
Fight the Power
Written by Carlton Ridenhour, Eric Sadler, Hank Boxley, Keith Boxley