If NYC Top Cop Bill Bratton Wants to Discuss ‘Thugs,’ He Should Start With the NYPD

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton
New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton

New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, one of the architects of New York’s racist stop-and-frisk policy, has weighed in on the fatal shooting that took place at a hip-hop concert at Manhattan’s Irving Plaza Wednesday night, and his statement was as prejudiced and hypocritical as one would expect from New York City’s top cop.


“The crazy world of the so-called rap artists who are basically thugs that basically celebrate the violence they live all their lives, and, unfortunately, that violence often manifests itself during the performances, and that’s exactly what happened last evening,” Bratton said during an interview on WCBS 880.

I am not familiar with rapper Ronald Collins, aka Troy Ave, who has been arrested in connection with the shooting at Irving Plaza. I have never heard the lyrics to any of his songs, and I would bet money that Bratton hasn’t, either. That didn’t stop his racist dog-whistling, though.

*Zippity rapper, zippity drugs. My oh my, what a black ass thug*

We can hear.

Bratton’s predictable framing of hip-hop culture, in general, and rap music, specifically, as inherently violent has been par for the course for the militarized arm of white supremacy since N.W.A was screaming “F—k tha Police” in 1988. And it would almost be laughable coming from the head of one of the most violent bands of thugs the United States has ever seen if that band didn’t rely on black “thug” stereotypes to endanger and take the lives of black people.

Since Bratton wants to talk about the basics, let’s talk about them.

Broken-windows policing almost exclusively happens in New York’s black and brown communities and generates major revenue for the city—a whopping $8.7 million in 2013, according to a New York Daily News report, “the second-largest source of revenue for the city’s criminal courts.”


“Every time a case is called, you can almost hear the cash register ringing,” said attorney Susan Tipograph.

Broken-windows policing also led to the state-sanctioned killing of Eric Garner by Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo. Garner was held in an illegal choke hold on a public street after being accosted by police for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, while other officers either assisted or watched.


The NYPD is also guilty of discriminatory “broken-taillight policing,” the kind of so-called investigatory traffic stops that led to the police execution of Walter Scott in Charleston, S.C., after he was stopped for a broken taillight; the police execution of Sam Dubose in Cincinnati, after he was stopped for a missing front license plate; the police execution of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson, Mo., after he was stopped for jaywalking; and the hanging death of Sandra Bland in a Waller County, Texas, jail cell after she was stopped for not using her turn signal.

In 2015 alone, DNAinfo reports, New York City collected $1.9 billion in fees and fines related to traffic offenses.


Marijuana has been decriminalized in New York since 1977, yet New York City, despite a decrease in recent years, remains the “marijuana-arrest capital of the world,” a city where black and Latino people are disproportionately stopped, frisked and arrested at higher rates than their white counterparts (pdf) who use marijuana at higher rates.

Eighteen-year-old Ramarley Graham was one victim of the so-called war on drugs. NYPD narcotics officers spotted him walking and adjusting his pants while black. Allegedly believing that Graham was carrying a weapon, they chased him down and forced themselves inside his grandmother’s home, where Officer Richard Haste gunned him down in the bathroom.


Of course, Graham had not been armed, but the discovery of a small bag of marijuana eventually rendered his death permissible in the eyes of the law.

Rape and sexual assault are the second-most-reported form of police brutality. In 2011 two NYPD officers were acquitted of raping a woman after seeing her home “safely” and re-entering her home on two additional occasions while she was intoxicated. The woman had a bruised cervix consistent with forcible rear entry, and she was able to describe the alleged rape. Unsurprisingly, just like five of the women in the case against Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw, she was not believed.


So, here we have these thugs with badges—these hustlers, hypocrites and gangsters who are drunk on power and high on violence—employing tactics that financially, psychologically and physically terrorize the very black and brown communities they are sworn to protect and serve.

An NYPD thug killed Eleanor Bumpers in her home.

NYPD thugs executed Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell.

NYPD thugs shot 16-year-old Kimani Gray seven times—three in his back—and as he lay dying, this baby begged, “Please don’t let me die.”


They let him die.

This abbreviated list of NYPD victims doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface, so I wonder: What makes a “thug” in Bratton’s opinion? Is it violence? Is it criminality? Is it dishonesty? Is it dishonor? If so, platinum membership must come with a gun and a badge.


What songs are NYPD officers listening to that make them feel like gods with throwaway weapons? What lyrics do they memorize that celebrate the lethal violence they inflict on communities of color? What songs get them pumped up to rape? What “crazy world” bred them?

To paraphrase Jay Z’s “Public Service Announcement,” they be the prison industry’s No. 1 supplier—and sometimes the cemetery's. So which beat should we fear?


Bratton’s clear intent was to present an excuse for state-sponsored and -sanctioned violence. His purpose was to criminalize blackness, to erode black joy, rage and artistry, three things that are maligned and misrepresented as perverse and pathological, particularly when white people don’t have access to or understanding of it.

We can see.

As Toni Morrison taught us, “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.” Therefore, I will not use this space to defend true hip-hop culture and the brilliant, resilient and loving communities it springs from. I will not discuss black cultural production placed on the auction block for corporate profit. I will not talk about the hypercapitalism and oppression that often lead to complicity in our own destruction.


We know that this isn’t a zero-sum game we’re playing. The United States was birthed in violence and baptized in the blood of its slain. From movies to music, games to television, politics to policing, this country revels in savagery. That has never been, nor will it ever be, the sole domain of blackness, black communities or black culture, but it has long been a calling card of police departments across the country.

So, hopefully, the next time Bratton decides to discuss bars, he’ll begin by explaining why so few NYPD officers ever serve time behind them.