Sunday, April 16, 2006

Proof Case is an Opportunity for Law Enforcement

Police have a questionable relationship with hip hop -- the time for change is now

Often, things in life come full circle.

Few hip hop fans could possibly forget Tupac Shakur's erry foretelling of his own death in his video for "I Ain't Mad At'Cha". Following his death, the video was looked at by many as not only a gesture of posthumous serenity by a man whose life was extinguished by the violence that is all too often a part of rap music, but also as a glaring indictment of that violence.

So it's no surprise that following the shooting death of DeShaun Holton -- known to his friends and fans as Proof -- speculators are looking back at the video for Eminem's "Toy Soldiers", a song lamenting the current rise in violence inherent in rap music. It is a rise of violence that has recently claimed the life of Israel Ramirez, a bodyguard working for Busta Rhymes. It has also been at the heart of acts of violence directed at artists such as Proof's labelmate Obie Trice, who was shot while driving on New Year's Eve 2005.

It is also no surprise that so many writers -- of various stripes -- are lamenting this latest rash of violence. However, examining the history of rap and hip hop, it becomes apparent that this "latest rash" is no abbheration in the trends of violence related to this music. In fact, it is business as usual.

When Lil' Kim was on trial for her part in a 2001 shootout at New York radio station Hot '97, she confirmed that shootouts in the lobby of this radio station are far more common place than many people would like to believe. An associate of The Game was shot in the leg during one such confrontation in 2005.

Rap legend Jam Master Jay was shot and killed inside his own recording studio in 2002. Rumors would eventually circulate that the shooting was in some way related to the drug trade. Sadly, it seems that not even hip hop's legends are safe from the violence that seems to permeate its culture.

In 2003, an alleged dispute between record labels led to the shooting of Atlanta rapper Souljah Slim, who had been linked to the notorious C Murder, currently being held for murder under extremely questionable circumstances.

In what may be one of the highest-profile incidents of the past ten years, the 2000 Source Awards errupted into violence. UPN would air the award show (which had been taped for later broadcast) despite the riot. In 2005 a BET (Black Entertainment Television) awards after party was broken up by riot police.

Even some of the softer elements of hip hop (or at least related music) are not immune to violence. In 2001, a man was shot and killed after an Usher concert. Usher isn't known to draw the most rowdy audiences -- at least not by hip hop standards.
As with all stories of this nature, these are only the stories of the highest profile. More often than not, the most intense violent incidents are contested in the same place the music is said to come from -- the street. More often than not, the violence is between relative (or complete) unknowns, far away from the public eye.

Many people would believe that the violence underpinning rap and hip hop highlights only the nature of the music itself, but there is one other matter at hand -- the highly questionable relationship between hip hop and law enforcement.

Year after year, observers are subjected to a litany of weapons chargest laid against hip hop aritsts and their associates. Thus far in 2006, charges have been laid against Master P, Silk tha Shocker, Millionaire Turk and producer Christopher Hicks. Mario Etheridge, the man who shot Proof (allegedly after Proof pistol whipped and shot bouncer and Gulf War I veteran Kieth Bender) has also been charged with weapons-related offenses.

In many cases of violence against rap and hip hop artists, police fail to ever fully investigate the matter -- let alone press charges against anyone responsible. In many cases where rappers are considered suspects, investigations are steered toward the eventual arrest of the rapper in question. Considering the cases of Tupac Skakur and Biggie Smalls (the murderers of neither were ever -- or are likely to ever be -- brought to justice) and C-Murder (who is still in prison for a murder that neither forensic evidence nor eyewitness account can prove he committed), there is no question that rap/hip hop violence is widely ignored by law enforcement.

Detroit police, on the other hand, have promised a full investigation into the murder of Proof. With the investigation still ongoing, they may yet deliver. The time has long passed for the issue of violence within hip hop circles to be taken seriously by police in all its facets -- a murdered rapper deserves justice no less than any murder victim.

In the case of Proof, however, this may be a more complex matter. Initial police reports suggest that Proof attacked first, and may well have murdered a man in cold blood before he was shot.

Regardless of the outcome, this may be the best opportunity for law enforcement to change its record regarding this issue.

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