The rapper ‘Common’ has received more press in the past couple of weeks than he probably has in all of the rest of his life. In case you haven’t heard, Michelle Obama invited him to the White House to perform for a night of poetry. Not a few people expressed some concerns; his being a strong and vocal supporter of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, being critical of police and law enforcement, and that he has supported, in his lyrics anyway, two people associated with killing cops.
Now, before anyone gets their panties in a wad, I am not necessarily a supporter of Common, nor do I believe it was appropriate for Obama to invite him to the White House – to perform. However, I do think it’s important to understand where he’s coming from.
Many blacks are hugely distrustful of law enforcement. And rightly so. Most have seen or experienced abuse of power by police. They know that some (or most?) cops are corrupt and violate as many laws as they uphold.
How many times can you see a bunch of white cops standing around kicking a black guy who’s laying on the ground hand-cuffed, and still have any respect for cops? When your innocent neighbor’s house is shot up at 2am when the cops had the wrong address for a drug raid, what will you think of our boys in blue?
Your friend is apprehended and thrown on the ground, in an expensive business suit no less, on suspicion of having robbed a bank. Later you learn that the suspects in the bank robbery were white. And you’re supposed to respect cops? Your friend, by the way, is very, very dark and not easily confused for being white. Then you read an article about Dymond Milburn, a 12-year-old black girl, who was beaten up by three male cops in her own yard in Galveston, TX on suspicion of prostitution. The cops were looking for three white prostitutes reported to be in the neighborhood. You’re beginning to understand what cops really mean when they say they’re color-blind.
When you know the extent to which cops visit prostitutes and do drugs themselves, can you hold them in any kind of favorable regard? They’re supposed to be law enforcers or officers of the peace, not law breakers.
Consider this. Cops from the local metro gang strike force show up at your door with a search warrant saying you’re a suspected drug dealer. You’re not, know it, and have nothing to hide so you let them in. They seize your new TV, computer, car, and other stuff as ‘ill gotten gains’. They find no drugs or any other evidence of any sort that you are a drug dealer or user and no charges are ever filed. When you attempt to get your stuff back they delay and delay and delay.
Four years later, articles begin appearing in the paper that the entire metro area gang strike force is being shut down for widespread abuses, including, not surprisingly to you, improperly seizing property from scores of innocent people, and with many cops taking the seized stuff home with them. People who have had stuff seized are told to come claim their stuff. When you attempt to do so you’re told that there’s no paperwork so you have to provide proof that the stuff is yours. How many people really keep receipts for all kinds of stuff for years? You did have a title for your car though, but it, along with over 40 other illegally seized cars, had been sold, years ago, for half its value, to a used car lot friend of the cops. You’re told to hire an attorney and file suit to get any compensation for the car.
Well, at least they caught the perps.
Another year passes and you read that no charges will be filed against the cops because they didn’t keep good records of their illegal seizures. You still haven’t gotten your stuff back, and you’re wondering why you’ve never before heard of thieves having charges dropped for their own lack of record keeping on what they stole from who.
And you’re supposed to trust cops? And Government? Really?
I could go on and on for pages and pages just with the abuses that have made the news. Since the end of slavery blacks have been abused by cops. From before the Scottsboro Boys until after the breakup of the Minnesota Gang Strike Force.
Is there any wonder so many blacks hate cops? Why cop killing is such a popular topic in hip-hop and rap?
When you experience this kind of abuse, over and over, for decades upon decades, it takes a huge bit of maturity and self-discipline to remain even moderately calm. To the extent that I can as a middle-class white guy, I understand where Common is coming from.
And the Obama invite?
The problem with inviting Common to perform at the White House is that it sort of implies a tacit endorsement of Common’s standing up for apparent cop killers. Does it also set him up as a bit of a role model for young blacks? Is Common the role model they need? After all, he doesn’t sing the praises of cop killers all the time, only some of the time.
That it was done during ‘cop week’ only makes it worse – a seeming stick in the eye to the cops gathered in DC, primarily to honor fellow cops killed in the line of duty. Was this some kind of weird retaliation towards cops for Obama having so grossly embarrassed himself when he jumped to a rash and incorrect judgment regarding a Cambridge cop arresting Henry Louis Gates Jr?
Sometimes, perception is important and there’s a huge difference in the perception of inviting someone to perform and inviting them for a discussion. Not unlike my and others reactions to Huckabee performing Cat Scratch Fever. Huck performing that song, or even allowing Nugent to perform it on his show, implies endorsement of the lyrics and to some extent, endorsement of the socio-political positions those performers have touted. Fine for Huckabee to have Nugent on for a discussion, maybe not so fine for Huck to perform such a sexually explicit song (though I had second thoughts on this one).
Unfortunately the important message was lost in the way Obama went about this.
There are gobs of very real incidents of police abuse of blacks that Obama can talk about. Obama could have invited Common to the White House for a discussion of these very real problems to the black community. Maybe include a NJ state trooper. Beer Summit II perhaps. This would be appropriate and could result in something good rather than making Obama look like a shallow, over-reactive cop hater who just wants to put a stick in cops eyes rather than work towards a solution.
 Black or black or African American? I have been corrected by many black friends when I’ve used the term African American, with them telling me that blacks prefer the term black. Why not uppercase Black? Simply because the A/P says so.
 Note that both cases were at least somewhat controversial so it is possible, very remotely though, that Common is not supporting cop killers but innocent people convicted of killing cops.