What Happens if the Cop is Really Mean? (#2)

BY: Andrew Barker

 

Hip hop is my favorite genre of music. I love the fun songs, and the emotional songs; but most of all I love the songs that have a social context and purpose. A positive message or a call to action. Slam poetry, to me, embodies all of my favorite aspects of hip hop music; emotion, rhythm, cause, and lyricism. It, however, doesn’t have as much materialism, misogyny, and violence perpetuated by corporate controlled (through “cookie cutter boy groups, test-market-research radio and the artificial stability of the U.S. pop charts”) hip hop (Queeley). This blog, though, isn’t about hip hop; it’s about a heartbreaking poem.

Javon Johnson is a highly regarded spoken word poet, winning poetry slam nationals two years in a row (2003, and 2004) and getting third place in the following year (2005) (About Javon L. Johnson). He graduated from Northwestern University with a Ph.D in Performance Arts with a cognate in African American studies. He’s a highly regarded scholar with multiple publications in various magazines and articles in the Huffington Post (Huffington Post) and is currently working on a book, Killing Poetry: Performing Blackness (About Javon L. Johnson).

Javon’s poem is called “Cuz He’s Black,” and it was performed in mid August of 2013, just a month after Trayvon Martin’s murderer was acquitted. This poem was made and performed in the current time of protest over police violence against people of color. As is said in the poem, there are numerous, too many to count, black people who have been unjustly killed by the police. Hazy descriptions of events and cries of self defense and “justified shooting” cloud these killings as police forces refuse to admit and work to combat racial targeting.

The poem is inspired by and recalls a day that Javon had with his four year old nephew in which they were in the car and his nephew was doing what young children do: Asking a million questions. Javon answers as best as he can and they share a laugh as both realize that Javon doesn’t have all the answers to the endless questions.

At this point the boy notices a police car as he glances out the window. The boy “drops his seat and says, ‘oh man, Uncle, 5-oh, we gotta hide.’” Javon immediately doesn’t like the fact that “he learned to hide from the cops well before he learned how to read.” He insists to his nephew that they had no reason to be afraid of authority (the word authority complete with air quotes), but admits to listeners his uncertainty. Explaining that the truth of the matter was far more complex than not hiding, because we all see, too much, the injustice and reality of police relations with people of color in America (Javon Johnson).

Especially powerful in this retelling, Javon says, “black boys are treated as problems well before we’re treated as people,” referring back to his nephew learning to hide from police before he learned to read. Javon continues to express the frustration about the way that young black boys are racialized and treated; that they shouldn’t have to grow up scared (Javon Johnson).

Time and again we see police who get acquitted of killing unarmed African Americans or they don’t get charged or indicted at all. Growing unrest in the streets is transferred to art forms and media. Things like poems and songs are very effective, I believe, in calling the public to action on this issue. As I said above hip hop and poetry can have very intense, emotional performances, as Javon’s poem is.

Currently we have, in the United States, a long standing and continuing racialization of black people. In the film, Ethnic Notions, we see the ways that blacks were racialized during slavery as docile and childish as if they’re happy in and destined for slavery. After slavery ended blacks were portrayed as unruly and brutish. This is a call to return to slavery, because blacks are not fit to live as free peoples (Pittman).

The racialization of blacks men as brutes and as violent continues today. It’s perpetuated through the criminal justice system as 29% of black males will be imprisoned in their life, while that number is just 4% for white males. Even though whites outnumber blacks and drug use across races or similar, 35% of those arrested for drug possession are black, 55% of those charged are black, and 74% of those convicted are, again, black (Pittman).

This is no mistake either, Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, outlines the way that the criminal justice system is used to control the black population. First they are “round[ed] up,” by using the War on Drugs to perform drug raids in poor minority communities to put them in jail. Then they jail them for some years, which effectively segregates minority communities as they stay in jail. Then they are subject to legal discrimination from employers, landloards (or potential landlords), and the education system because they can no longer get federal money to help pay for college.

In this way, we have locked up many people of color forcing them to continue to bear the burden of being racialized as violent and as criminals. The racialization of people of color as violent is the reason that young boys like Javon’s nephew learn so young to be scared of the police. It’s the reason Javon tells his four year old nephew to be “aware of how quickly [his] hand moves to pocket for wallet or ID” (Javon Johnson). Because, apparently, cops are justified to shoot an unarmed person, because if they’re black, they automatically pose a threat.

Through his doubts and fears, though, Javon continues to encourage his nephew. Tells him all the right things to do, “be strong, be smart, be kind,” but his nephew has one last question: What happens if the cop is really mean?

Citations

“About Javon L Johnson.” About Javon L Johnson. San Francisco State University. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <http://faculty.sfsu.edu/~javonj&gt;.

Alexander, Michelle. “5.” The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: New, 2010. Print.

Ethnic Notions. Dir. Leon F. Litwack. Artform Productions, 1982. Film.

Huffington Post. Huffington Post. Web. 12 Dec. 2015. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/javon- johnson/>.

Javon Johnson – “cuz He’s Black” (NPS 2013). Perf. Javon Johnson. Youtube.com. ButtonPoetry, 20 Aug. 2013. Web. 9 Dec. 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Wf8y_5Yn4&gt;. Pittman, LaShawnDa. University of Washington. 8 Dec 2015. Lecture.

Queeley, Andrea. Hip Hop and The Aesthetics of Criminalization. (2011). In Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society. Taylor & Francis Group.

3 thoughts on “What Happens if the Cop is Really Mean? (#2)

  1. 1. Yes, the title of the blog relates to the cultural artifact presented. It’s a very intriguing title. Good job.
    2. Yes, the cultural artifact is on the slam poetry piece by Javon Johnson.
    3. I would like to know if racism stills exist today other than with cases that involves police brutality. In other words, is racism today seen only through police brutality or is there other factors that contribute to the racism today.
    4. This blog does an excellent job of incorporating class material to their blog. In class I learned from Dr. Pittman how crime rates were not justified when blacks were compared to whites. This blog successfully explains the specifics of this subject.
    5. Although this was an interesting blog, I was misled by your title. I would like to know more about what would happen if cops were truly mean and how you would approach this problem.

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  2. 1. It initially just gives an idea that this paper will be about the police brutality, but does not specifically reflect the project. However, I think it is better this way since it creates a hook.
    2. Yes, the video was very powerful and served its purpose.
    3. Were these kinds of arts effective in the past?
    4. Connects well by talking about the lectures and the video from class.
    5. This was a very powerful slam poetry. I enjoyed reading and watching the video.

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  3. 1. Does the person’s title reflect what the project will be about? Yes/No. Can it be improved? If so, provide suggestions. If not, let them know it’s a great title. Awesome title! It definitely reflects the subject of the blog. It did a good job of grabbing my attention. After reading the blog and watching the video, its’ title is much more meaningful. I think he chose a very important line of the spoken word poem to use as his blog title.
    2. Is there a visual representation of the cultural product-picture, audio, video, or written? Yes/No Yes, there is a visual representation.
    a. How well does the visual representation depict what the blog is about? The blog uses the poem as a sort of back drop, or narrator. It gives a synopsis of the video, while weaving in points and references from other sources related to racial/social injustices.
    3. What would you like to know about the cultural artifact as it relates to what you are learning/have learned in class? The, to this point, never-ending racial hierarchy and discrimination that exists in the US could be examined and studied for years. I think in the short writing, AJ did a good job of providing context for the video and answering some of the questions I had as I read. One question I am left with for AJ, however, is: Do you think that these media forms are effective in calling the public as a whole to action, or just the Black community? It seems that the majority of the hip-hop and rap audience that would listen to a spoken word poem like this or even music with a similar message is Black or already aware of the problems. Do you believe poems and songs with these types of messages are heard by enough of the general public?
    4. Based on what you have learned in the course, how well does the person connect the cultural artifact to course material? AJ does a good job of pulling from the material in lecture and the readings. He cites both in his blog entry and connects the information well to his artifact.
    5. Provide any other useful comments that may the person complete blog #2. I thought it was very well written and captured the right tone for this assignment. I really liked how he provided statistics of Black and White men in the criminal justice system to provide a contrast, and create a clearer picture of the injustice.

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