Following yesterday’s acquittal of three New York City police detectives for the November 2006 shooting death of an unarmed citizen, Sean Bell [click to read], many in the Hip Hop community have expressed their outrage over a judge’s decision to let the officers go free for their roles in collectively firing 50 rounds at Bell and two of his friends following a bachelor party on the eve of his wedding day.
While mainstream national news coverage yesterday made little mention of the verdict, instead continuing to be consumed by the Democratic Primary contest for President, BET did speak with emcees Nas, Talib Kweli and Mos Def to get their immediate responses to the verdict on 106 & Park. While obviously angered by the verdict, most of the discussion on the broadcast leaned towards a nonviolent response to the decision, instead encouraging those living in the communities most affected by police brutality to become more involved in their local political scenes so that ineffective district attorney’s who prosecute police officers and biased judge’s who decide their fate aren’t elected to those positions in the first place.
Shortly before those suggestions were made as to what the private citizenry should do in response to verdicts like this, ?uestlove of The Roots spoke to HipHopDX and offered his own call to action.
“My immediate response [to the verdict] was that, ‘I hope that muthafuckas are tearing the shit out New York City similar to Los Angeles [in 1992],’” said ?uest. “And [when I said that] my friend laughed at me like, ‘C’mon now, you know better than that.’ I was like, ‘That’s the saddest shit I heard.’”
While thousands of protestors took to the streets of New York last night to voice their anger over the verdict, gatherings remained nonviolent with many protestors firmly adamant in their belief that a riot is not the appropriate response to this verdict.
And after informing ?uestlove that this writer makes his home in Cincinnati, Ohio, site of the largest riot in the United States since the 1992 Los Angeles uprising, and that while that action arguably brought an effective end to the casual killing of private citizens it also caused irreparable damage to industry within the communities that rioting took place, the effects of which are still being felt 7 years later, ?uest clarified his position on whether or not New Yorkers should indeed riot in response to this verdict.
“I literally didn’t mean I hope that they’re tearing New York up,” he explained. “But I kinda hoped that [the response to the verdict] wasn’t just gonna be the normal Sharpton here, family members there, and about 12 people [expressing their outrage].”
Although the short-term gratification of releasing that outrage may seem worth the long-term consequences to community for some, ?uest seems to suggest that the real response most in the Hip Hop community should take is following the lead of his group The Roots (who’s politically-charged tenth album, Rising Down, is purposefully set for release next Tuesday on the 16th anniversary of the L.A. riots) and allowing for more socially-aware songs to enter their repertoire.
“The fact that when [Bell] was shot the only emcee to mention [the case] some weeks afterwards was Papoose was kind of disheartening to me,” ?uest said. “And after a while you just come from a place where you’re like, ‘Is somebody gonna say something?’ Then you have to look in the mirror and be like, ‘Yo dog, you gotta be the leader that says something.’ Like, this ain’t like when [I was] like fifteen-years-old and something goes down and you’re like, ‘Aww man, I can’t wait to hear what KRS-One had to say about that shit.’ It’s like now you have to be that person [that’s going to say something].”
But for those leery of leaving their protests in the hands of this generation of artists, there is still far more that will be done in this case beyond the boundaries of Hip Hop. The officers still face the possibility of a federal case being brought against them if the Justice Department determines that Bell’s federal civil rights were violated by the officers actions the night of his death. And Bell’s fiancée and two friends (who both survived the shooting) have remained determined in their search for justice and have filed a civil suit against the city of New York for wrongful death.