Archive for April, 2012

And so the consciousness of Los Angeles is reflecting on the Los Angeles Riots of 1992. Actually, it wasn’t really a riot as it was civil unrest… a rebellion…. insurrection…. a violent reaction to an injustice dealt to the community by the State of California.

It’s actually hard to believe its been 20 years since we heard the verdict of “not guilty” for the Los Angeles Police Officers accused of beating motorist Rodney King. The verdict was unbelievable. We saw – the nation saw – the world saw videotaped evidence of the beating. It was clear that the officers used undue force. But a jury saw something else and The City exploded into a great ball of fire, violence and gunplay that left 54 dead and 3000 injured. Thousands of businesses were burned down in the wake of folks anger. Truck Driver Reginald Denny was beaten unconscious,  live on television, an image that remains an indelible icon for one of the most violent seasons in Los Angeles history.

While the beating of Rodney King  and the subsequent acquittal of the involved officers was certainly the spark that ignited the violence, the atmosphere of the City was ripe for such an explosion. Consider this timeline of events in the City:

March 3, 1991: Rodney King is brutally beaten by Los Angeles Police officers. The incident is captured on videotape by George Holliday who takes it to the police but they dismiss him. He then takes it to KTLA Channel 5 who broadcast the incident in its entirety and the scene becomes an international media sensation. The community is outraged.

March 16, 1991, La Tasha Harlins, a 15 year old teenager was shot and killed by Soon Ja Du a Korean store owner. Du claimed LaTasha had stolen a bottle of orange juice. They tussled and Du shot LaTasha dead…
The community calls the shooting racially motivated as there have been tremendous tensions between blacks and Koreans.

November 15, 1991: Soon Ja Du is convicted of voluntary manslaughter and does not receive any jail time. Another case involving a dog getting beat nearly to death delivers a thirty-day jail sentence for the perpetrator. The contrasts sends a disturbing message to the community that a dog’s life is worth more than the life of a black child. The community is outraged.

April 29, 1992: Officers Stacy Koon, Laurence Powell, Ted Briseno and Timothy Wind were acquitted of all charges stemming from their beating of Rodney King…. Incensed by the murder and subsequent miscarriage of justice in the case of LaTasha Harlins combined with the unimaginable verdicts in the Rodney King Beatings…. Los Angeles exploded.

It was a surreal time. I work at a radio station that stood alone as a voice of reason trying to provide information and comfort to the hurting people of Los Angeles. The station braved the streets to provide eyewitness accounts of what was happening in the City during the unrest. Fires raged…. looting overtook the consciousness of the people. The nation watched in horror as Reginald Denny was beaten nearly to death by an angry group of people on the corner of Florence and Normandie… The station was an important voice in the midst of anarchy.

I remember trying to maintain a normal life. Taking care of business and making my deadlines. I remember having visitors from New York City. They wanted to get some coverage for a new artist they were promoting. We met in the valley. heck, no violence there. But we opted for lunch at Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Hollywood. As we entered Hollywood, police were everywhere. checkpoints, military…. it was like  scene from a movie. We made a quick turn to avoid some other cars blocking our way – a maneuver that would not have even gotten a police officers attention in normal days, but LA was burning and the police were on one…. they jumped into action, swerving to cut us off and running us up onto the sidewalk. They hopped out of their cars with guns drawn.. get out get out of the car right now!!!! we complied. It was a harrowing experience…. After searching us, they released us apologizing and telling us to have a good day…. Sign of the times…

And so 20 years later… are we a better city? In some ways yes. In some ways no….. Even though some institutions have brought to bear a solid consciousness of community development, even though the police department has gone through great lengths to repair relationships in the community and even though some policies have changed for the supposed better, we still find evidence that a black life means nothing…. I say you can change the policies and regulations, but it’s hard to change the hearts of men…. and so we continue to promote love…. love conquers all and brings peace into our hearts and subsequently into our communities……. Can we all just get along?

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Wow. 2012 has been the end game for two of music’s enduring icon. Don Cornelius of Soul Train took his life earlier this year while Dick Clark of American Bandstand died after a long life and a heart attack took its toll. These two men, made such an impact on today’s popular music culture. Indelible influence. And as I contemplate the legacy of these two men, I am motivated to reflect on the music of today. I am stimulated to analyze the path music has taken.  We are in fact, dumbed down. There is no love, no consciousness, no sophisticated artistry.

In December of 2011, CNN published a piece written by John Blake, called Where is the love in R&B music? The article is very profound in its assessment that today’s artists lack the sophistication of artists past. Blake is right when he asserts that “Listening to black music today is depressing. Songs on today’s urban radio playlists are drained of romance, tenderness and seduction. And it’s not just about the rise of hardcore hip-hop or rappers who denigrate women.” No, gone are the days of romanticizing. Gone are the days of socially conscious music. Gone are the days of happy feel good lyrics that uplift your soul.

If  “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life“, I would say that our society is in the midst of severe moral decay teetering on anarchy. I mean, songs about shooting and killing are just as prevalent as songs about relationships. And the songs about relationships are coming from a pimp ho mentality as opposed to boyfriend girlfriend…. The courting is over.

Social consciousness was a predominant theme of music past. Uplift of our circumstance was motivated by certain songs and groups. Now, we are proud to be hood. From the ghetto. Gully. dirty. grimy. saggin. gangsta…. it’s all in the music these days. We are tearing down, not lifting up. Today’s musical generation fails to recognize that this love affair with the underclass is a sentiment that is promoted and glorified to general market audiences across the globe. The stereotypes promoted in today’s music is how the world sees our people.

And now, even on the mainstream pop media outlets, the saggin, gangsta… the woman who projects promiscuity as opposed to sexy sophistication… the street smart thug is the norm of black life that is shown. To be romantic is seen as a weak, spineless position in life.

But not only the social impact of the music is shallow. It’s very construction seems to be superficial at best. It lacks the symphonic elaborate syncopations of yesterday’s music. It lack’s the musicianship, the depth of lyrical content, the depth of musical composition, the depth of melodic sophistication. It lacks the feeling that composers and songwriters have presented a song from their heart. In fact, the formula for hit making these days is to sample beats, riffs and bars from the songs made popular “back in the day”…

Today’s musical compositions lack spirit, commitment and purpose….. We live in a dumbed down musical world…..

And so we see how the freedom of expression can make a difference in America. The rallies and marching. The civil discourse. The public rhetoric has caused the system in Sanford, Fl. to finally file charges against George Zimmerman. He faces 2nd degree murder charges for shooting Trayvon Martin. We pray that the facts come out and justice is truly served.

I am so glad that the authorities in Sanford Fl. came to this wise decision. Yet, I am sad that we exert so much fervor and energy to protest this shooting at the hands of a white (hispanic) man, but we seem lackadaisical when it comes down understanding or making a stand against black on black murder. According to a Department of Justice Report, close to 94% of all black murders came at the hand of another black. And in most of those murders, the victims are 13-29 years old. So the cliche that we are losing our young black men is absolutely true.

In Los Angeles, I am feeling an increase in murder against our young black men. Where’s the outrage? And if we have outrage, how do we express it in a meaningful way.  Now, I don’t think going to the streets with picket signs is going to help this issue. Violent offenders in the hood have nothing to lose or gain from our voices being raised on the picket line. But yet, something needs to be done.

Oh there are those who would deny this tragic trend. But yet. When you go to a concert, isn’t there an uneasy feeling in the back of your mind that some violence would break out. When you walk to the store, aren’t you wary? I am. I am vigilant to the nth degree. Sometimes when I see a young black man, I am wondering if he will be the one to start some sh**… This is the reality of living in the ‘hood. So what do we do?

For me, the healing begins in the home. A strong family consciousness needs to be instilled in the homes of the ‘hood. Fathers stay home and raise your boys. Teach them how to be men. Responsible. Protective. Proud of their families and their communities. Churches. Stand up more vociferously for the preservation of men. Sometimes, y’all really try to make us feel guilty for being men. But we need to be uplifted. Not eviscerated. We need support. We need education. Help us help our young black boys.

In the final analysis, Trayvon’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman is indeed tragic. It exposes the nature of some people’s perception of the black male. The hoodie can get you killed. Saggin’ can get you profiled. But at the same time, young blacks are killing other blacks. Over colors, tennis shoes, sometimes for no reason….  What do we say about that? and how do we stop it.

And so the film Hunger Games has taken the box office by storm. As of this writing, the film could easily surpass the 300-million dollar mark by weekends end. The film adaptation of a popular book trilogy launched into our consciousness amid a massive public relations and promotional campaign. I had never heard of the film or book prior to feeling some of the marketing buzz. Nor was I particularly interested in seeing it in the theaters during my sojourn to the Saturday Matinee. I had planned to see Safe House, Denzels new film. It had been out a while and I had not seen it yet. And so without checking to see when it was playing, I went to the theater only to find out it did not come on again until five or six hours later. So on a whim, I purchased tickets to see Hunger Games. I was pleasantly surprised at the film. I was also surprised at the stories that came out the following week. I learned that some of the books fans were not pleased when they learned that certain characters in the film were black. Their tweets and posts revealed surprising racist and prejudiced attitudes among teens and tweens. They fully expected this fascinating film, set in a futuristic post-apocalyptic America, to be devoid of black folk. In their literary, imaginative mind stage, this film was to be presented in an exclusively whites only setting. Its funny because as I watched the film, I was left wondering, during the first “reaping” scene where Katniss steps forward to volunteer for the Hunger Game in place of her sister, if black folk were extinct in a post apocalyptic society. As the District is gathered together for the Reaping, a wide pan of all the faces of District 12 is shown. I did not recognize any black faces in the first sweep and saw only one during a subsequent sweep. I wondered out loud “what? no black folk in the future?” As the film progressed and we were introduced to Cinna and others in the film along with sweeping panoramas of the Capitol I did recognize that we did in fact survive the apocalypse and thrived on various levels in the film… as we should. That said, I contemplate today on our inner consciousness….. On one hand hatred is so ingrained in folk that we would be offended if a movie character violates our expectation based on what we’ve read in the book. Not that the character did not do exactly as he or she did in the book. No, folk are offended because of the color of his skin. On the other hand, our consciousness recognizes or is sensitive to the notion, that we could be forgotten in expressions of humanity as presented in a literary or cinematic piece. In the end, we miss the message in the film – at least to me and that is we can ALL live together. We can all help one another. That we should all consider each others skin color no more than we would consider the color of ones eyes… Character, not color is the thread of our existence and will be the common denominator of our survival.