Monday, February 1, 2010

Out on the Streets they Call You Murderer !

Number 1
You have the right not to be killed
Murder is a CRIME!
Unless it was done by a
Policeman or aristocrat
Know your rights
The Clash, “Know Your Rights” (1982)

In 1976, British punk bands like The Clash and the Sex Pistols came out in a changing political climate where much were oppression and violence were very evident in shanty streets of poor and immigrant London. That same year seventeen year old Gurdip Singh Chaggar was murdered in what can be clearly called a racist attack in Southall, London. The attackers were three white men who were apparently inspired by an extreme right-wing organization, the National Front. The tune “Know Your Rights” suits quite well for what became one of the most remembered yet atrocious acts in Southall, UK. Other Prominent bands arousing from the racist tensions were roots and dub reggae artists like Misty in Roots, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Steel Pulse among others. Though punk and reggae by ideological social expressions seem to be oppositional with one another -- sound-wise, reggae carries the steady off-beat syncopation of harmonious sounds with lyrical content of one love and unity, while punk projects the raucous power-chord dissonance of anti-establishment attitude and rebelliousness -- what's important to get across are the effects of reggae and punk musicians producing a counter-narrative to the dominant discourses that shape violence, oppressions and injustices of acts of racism in marginal sectors.

On the outskirts of London near the Heathrow airport on April 23 of 1979, an extreme right-wing organization chose Southall Town Hall to hold its St. George’s Day election meeting. The area is and was one of the country’s biggest South Asian and Black populations. It was also a day of protest for all those who aimed at reaching justice and equality for these minority population in this town. This protest which fought against racist discrimination in the middle of the day ended up turning as one of the most remembered riots of UK demonstrations. Protesters closed off the streets in order to demonstrate their rejection towards an increase in racial conflict with groups such as the British National Front, also known as the NF – far right white nationalist group. The NF, founded in 1967, had a reputation of fascists and racist white nationalists who claimed that mostly all robberies are the actions of black people, self-victimizing the whites, and that immigration of colored people was problematic for most of the UK’s troubles. Throughout the demonstrations, police authorities -- many of them on their horses and vans -- began vigorously interfering with protester and violently shoving and hitting them with their rods. Police's actions caused a massive riot amongst protesters. Within this, a young teacher by the name of Blair Peach was hit in the head by police, and consequently led to his death. This New Zealand native and leader of the Anti-Nazi League unfortunately gave his life for the struggle of human rights and equality. A decade after, Punjabi teenager Kuldip Singh Sekhon was also murdered by racism in Southall. Similarly, on April 22, 1993, 18-year-old black British Stephen Lawrence was stabbed to death while waiting for a bus in South East London. These sparked massive responses from the Southall community and further out.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic and two decades after Peach’s death, such catastrophic events also resided in the USA. Twenty-three year old Amadou Diallo was an immigrant in New York City who sought political asylum from Guinea, and to pursue an education. Though he was not enrolled yet, he was a struggling young adult who made his living selling videotapes, gloves, and socks in 14th street’s Union Square, as many struggling immigrants do. Though early on February 4, 1999, all Amadou’s dreams were about to be gone. After returning from a meal, Diallo was standing outside a building in the Bronx when four civilian dressed white police officers approached him. The officers claimed they had confused him for a serial rapist. The officers claim they shouted they were the NYPD and demanded for Diallo to freeze with his hands up. The young man frightens and runs up his building. While all police officers are chasing him, Amadou reaches for his pocket to pull out his wallet which cost him his life. One police officer falls to the floor by accident and consequently, another shouts “Gun!” This catastrophe ends up as a rampage shooting Diallo an exaggerated amount of forty-one times.

Similarly, Ousmane Zongo, was a Burkinabè immigrant who made his living repairing art and musical instruments in New York City. One evening on May 22, 2003, the police raided a warehouse for the distribution of pirated CDs and DVDs, where Zongo did his work. Though Zongo’s work did not partake on the pirating scheme, he gets shot and killed instantly by the officers. Another incident, on November 25, 2006, an added rampage shooting from police officers takes place. Seven undercover police detectives amongst the crowd are there waiting for suspicious or illegal activities to occur at a club of the Jamaican area of Queens, New York. Their motives were that the venue had been claimed to foster prostitution. The three men, two African Americans and one Latino including Sean Bell, get shot over fifty times killing Bell.

Even though the mentioning of other related murders are worth the say as it brings the long historical pattern of institutionalized racism to the spotlight, I have select songs specifically chronicling both the murders of Blair Peach in Southall, London, UK, and of Amadou Diallo in Brooklyn, New York. Here are some song verses below and some important reoccurring themes:


1) Key actors – Us Against Them

Blair Peach was an ordinary man
Blair Peach him took a simple stand
'gainst deh fascists and dem wicked plan
so they beat him till him life was gone
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”

They've got to protect their property
Better phone up the police
Call up corruption
Who killed Blair Peach?
The Pop Group, “Justice” (1980)

Political prisoners caught at Southall
And tried by kangaroo courts
A man had to have his balls removed
After being kicked by the S.P.G.
It doesn't look like justice to me….

And they'll bring in the army
To break up the strikes
And they'll bring the legal terrorists
To control civil disorders
The Pop Group, “Justice” (1980)

2) Memory

Blair Peach was not an English man
Him come from New Zealand
Tho dey kill'em and 'em dead and gone
But his memory lingers on
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”

Do you remember Stephen Lawrence
Black male cut down in south London?
And Babylon, called to account,
Made a true confession
Misty in Roots, “Cover Up” (2002)

3) Illusion & Reality

Oh, I'd have caught your eyes, but my hands were tied
Was it truth? Was it lies?
Many words of truth are spoken in jest
Who would have guessed that, or trust that? What a mess!
Hazel O’Connor, “Calls the Tune” (1982)

From the goodness of your mind
And it's a cover up
Black man feel it
No justice
Racism - it's a cover up
People know it
Do you remember Stephen Lawrence
Black male cut down in south London?
And Babylon, called to account,
Made a true confession
Misty In the Roots “Cover Up” (2002)

Oh ye people of Europe
GREAT injustices are committed upon deh land
How long will we permit dem to carry on?
Is Europe becoming a fascist place?
The answer lies at your own gate
and in the answer lies your fate
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”

Political prisoners caught at Southall
And tried by kangaroo courts
A man had to have his balls removed
After being kicked by the S.P.G.
It doesn't look like justice to me
The Ruts, “Jah War” (1979)

I wake up every day
And look at my country
This is what the blind man sees
Does it look like justice to you
It doesn't look like justice to me
The Pop Group, “Justice” (1980)

Everywhere you go it's deh talk of the day
Everywhere you go, you hear people say
dat "Deh Special Patrol...dem a MURDER-AH, MURDER-AH"
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”

4) Solutions

We can't let dem get, no furder-ah
we can't let dem get, no furder-ah
because dem kill Blair Peach, deh teacha
dem kill Blair Peach dem dogs 'n bleeders
LKJ, “Reggae Fi Peach”


1) Key Actors – Unheard voices

Lena gets her son ready for school
She says "on these streets, Charles
You've got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you
Promise me you'll always be polite,
that you'll never ever run away
Promise Mama you'll keep your hands in sight.
Bruce Springsteen, “American Skin (41 Shots)” (2000)

We proceeded on a country road
His mother's eyes withered swoll
Her child was never comin home
Said a prayer for his soul
As the coffin had closed, committed to the earth below
First seed she would sew, would be a tree never grown
Mos Def, “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

What's real stain they thoughts
Swear, but they won't say it in court
All they do is change the report
Riots, tryin to keep the crowd under control
They even got shows, Cops, LAPD, Highway Patrol yo yo
Wordsworth (ft. by Mos Def), “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

2) The Unforgivable

We can work, walk, march and protest
Think about how we approach this
Ask questions but they keep frontin'
Due time we change a little something
Hey yo don't you know
Won't forget Amaduous Diallo
To the crooked people and the crooked cops
Got to spread love before the world goes pop
The Beasty Boys, “We Got The” (2004)

I find it hard to say, that everything is alright
Don't look at me that way, like everything is alright
Cuz my own eyes can see, through all your false pretenses
But what you fail to see, is all the consequences
You think our lives are cheap, and easy to be wasted
As history repeats, so foul you can taste it
And while the people sleep, too comfortable to face it
His life so incomplete, and nothing can replace it
And while the people sleep, too comfortable to face it
Lauryn Hill, “I find it Hard to Say (Rebel)” (2002)

3) Victims of the system

[Wyclef as Amadou]
Boy I am so tired
I'll be glad when I get inside the house
Oh, I dropped my keys
Oh what tis bright light?
My God they must gonna rob me
Who these people with them all at they gonna rob me
I'm gonna take out my wallet to make sure they just get the money
Nothing else.. (??)
Oh it's the police (*whew*)
I feel so much better
I will show them, I have my ID
so they know I am good people
{*followed by a rapid flurry of gunshots*}
Wyclef, “Diallo” (2000)

But I'd rather rhyme about how crooked some of these cops is
My synopsis ain't pretty
I'd stay, off them plains and, out the city if I were you
Do what you gotta do
But while you wave them flags, remember Amadou Diallo
KRS-One, “South Bronx” (2000)

Amadou Diallo, they killed him for nuttin'
No crime he did not do!
And just like him there were others
who suffered for what they didn't do
We're living in a system,
we are the victims and that is so true
Amadou Diallo - Reggae music knows your name
Buju Banton, “I Don’t Know Why” (2000)

a. 41 Shots

Reality's a nigga gettin rock shot 41 times
And you askin why I run from one time
I don't even get justice,
Shyne, “Martyr”

Who'll be the next to fire
forty-one shots by Diallo's side?
You said he RIPS oh
but he didn't have no peace oh
But now he rest in peace oh
in the belly of the beast oh
You guys are vampires
in the middle of the night
Suckin on human blood
Is that your appetite sir?
You said he RIPS oh
but he didn't have no peace oh
But now he rest in peace oh
in the belly of the beast oh
Diallo, Diallo - similar to Steven Biko
Diallo, Diallo - you told me the murder was an error
Diallo, Diallo - but every man will be judged
Diallo, Diallo - according to his words
Wyclef, “Diallo” (2000)

(let’s go)
kill ‘em all slow
I was on a serious tree bender with my hands up at a crayz wall’s show
Never circuit bacon don’t police me anymore
You’re a trained professional ??? 41 shots over par
Least common denominator
Aesop Rock, “NY Electric” (2005)

Reality's a nigga gettin rock shot 41 times
And you askin why I run from one time
I don't even get justice,
Fre (ft. by Mos Def), “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

Constitution, 41 more holes in it
And cops swingin sticks like they tryin to win the pennant
And stickin sticks places where they ashamed to admit it
But that's the straw that broke the camel's back
J-Live (ft. by Mos Def), “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

Possessed by a nervous twitch and itchy written finger
41 strokes through the barrel of pen for Amadou
Rubrix (ft. by Mos Def), “A Tree Never Grown” (2000)

4) Solution

Wake up and rebel
We must destroy in order to rebuild
Wake up, you might as well
Oh are you... oh are you satisfied
Oh are you satisfied
Rebel... ohhh rebel
Why don't you rebel?
Lauryn Hill, “I find it Hard to Say (Rebel)” (2002)

Numerous musicians have galvanized numerous ways – through activism, demonstrations, and cultural production – right when moments of crisis hits.

"How long shall they kill our prophets" ~ Bob Marley

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