Blog Post

Police and Youth Tension expressed through Media

Police and Youth Tension expressed through Media

Police work has become increasingly difficult for officers working in Black communities.  As media continues to highlight instances of police abuse that have contributed to the rising tensions and poor relationship between the Black community and local police departments, it is important that we understand and appreciate the dialogue and public understanding of what is happening in this community.

Police have had a long history of militarized practice which has shown itself primarily on the poor and ethnic minorities in this country, going as far back as the antebellum era.  As we look throughout more recent history, urban communities have become more vocal (or more attention is being paid to the cries of the communities) about its distaste for police abuse, which has shifted public attitudes and perceptions of police efforts.  In looking at the voices of some of the Black community's most respected artists and figures, we gain some insight into some of the most pressing issues weighing in on the community today in terms of police relationships.  Artists like Jay-Z, T.I., and Meek Mill have become more outspoken about their disapproval of law enforcement's aggressive methods of community protection which seem to be more suppressive than supportive with this community particularly.

In the presentation provided in class, our implicit bias was explored (Harvard implicit bias survey presented), and looked at how this level of prejudice has effected policing in general.  Due to a skewed experience against youth of color, we looked at how Hip Hop's artists begin to channel creative content toward highlighting some of the community upset regarding police abusive behavior.

Given how Hip Hop has been a major contributor in how Black/Latinx/Minority youth have expressed their distrust and frustrations with the negative aspects of policing (e.g. Abuse of power, isolation of specific communities in treatment, frequent acquittals when charged with forms of malfeasance), what are some of the ways we can look at Hip Hop (and other forms of minority youth expression) to inform our understanding of not only the issues being presented, but also the methods in which the expression are exhibited?  For example, in terms of how "Aggressive" or "Angry" artists appear to be in performing their material, how can we promote the emotional presence in youth expression, even in cases where it appears controversial?



This discussion made me reflect on how often the topic of police comes up in the class that I teach: (1) Prohibition in the 1920s, how black families were disproportionality affected by it, and how it built the federal prison system, (2) Convict leasing and the chain gang system in the South during Jim Crow, (3) Police violence against Mexican-American youth during WWII who wore zoot suits for self-expression. Police violence was definitely at the core of their identity, (4) the Black Power Movement, (5) Intersectional feminism. For a survey course where I have to try to teach all of history since the end of the Civil War, it is quite significant how many times police violence comes up. Once I get past Prohibition, my students always start to make connection to their lives and what they experience today. They start to historicize it and also realize how personal the issue actually is to them as both an issue of racism, but of equal importance of gender and class. I realize that your presentation and questions were about Hip Hop and minority youth expression, but I think locating the issue throughout American history (which you mention) can help unpack implicit bias and how labels like “aggressive” or “angry” get attached to people of color when they speak on issues affecting their communities.     


1) Police Relations and Youth Media/Culture [Dave]

(Materials listed below is to help with providing context and understanding prior to class presentation/exercises)


KRS-ONE “Sound of Da Police”:

NWA “F-ck The Police” (Snippet from film “Straight Outta Compton”):

Jay Z Decodes ‘99 Problems’:

Travis Scott on black people’s problems:

Meek Mill: Prisoners need a new set of rights:

Readings (Light):

Jay Z Opinion (NY Times):

Straight Outta Compton and NWA to #blacklivesmatter:


This presentation was particularly difficult given the seriousness of police brutality within black communities, and the inclusion of film footage of Oscar Grant's murder by the police in Fruitvale Station. I cannot imagine how anyone can watch videos of the police killing people and then conclude that they are not guilty. However, you brought up implicit biases surrounding race in class, and these biases can shade the ways that even the most objective of videos are viewed. And so while it is a good thing that many cops are now reqiured to wear body cameras, that is not enough on its own. The racial biases within us all must be continuously explored and confronted, and this is a particularly important task for the police, given their perpetual racist violence.

To speak to the other part of your presentation - the relevance of hip hop to teaching and addressing police violence - I think this class did a great job overall of reminding us of the significance of cultural media forms like hip hop from a particularly political angle. And I just want to add that there is a long history of youth movements leading to real change around the world, so we should always pay them serious attention. Here is a NYT article with some examples: