As common as death by gun in America is, the hand that holds the gun often defines how those deaths are depicted. So it was not surprising to see the kind of reaction generated by one man being killed and three people being wounded at a T.I. concert in New York City recently. It concerned black people and, thus, was seemingly more frightening and dastardly to select people.
That would include New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who used the incident to depict rappers as “basically thugs” in a subsequent radio interview. Bratton went on to say, “The crazy world of these so-called rap artists, who are basically thugs that basically celebrate violence they did all their lives, and unfortunately that violence oftentimes manifests itself during their performances, and that’s exactly what happened last evening.”
It is hilariously ironic that the person in charge of the New York City Police Department wants to talk about purported bad culture that manifests into unnecessary violence. Bratton is right to remain blindly ignorant and drowning in his own pool of hypocrisy, but it’s unfortunate that others who ought to know better failed to show up. In response to that shooting, the behemoth concert company Live Nation announced that it was postponing or canceling multiple rap concerts.
In a statement, Jim Yeager, a spokesman for Live Nation, explained: “In light of last week’s tragic events, we are acting with an overabundance of caution and coordinating a going-forward strategy with the New York Police Department that may also include a curfew. Because these discussions with the NYPD are ongoing, we will be postponing a few of our upcoming shows at Irving Plaza and the Gramercy.”
The NYPD denied this, with a spokeswoman for the department declaring, “The organization’s decision to cancel the event was in no way influenced by the NYPD.”
Whom shall we believe? The concert company that has to rely on the assistance of local police departments for their events, or the Police Department with a commissioner depicting entertainers—majorly black, by the way—of being “basically thugs” and into the “gangster lifestyle”? Spoiler alert: The Fader reported that a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed that the NYPD issued a “strong advisory” to one New York-area venue to can its hip-hop shows.
As one promoter, Shabazz Varnie, explained to the magazine, “Police give the venues problems,” noting that the NYPD can also “push for promoters to get extra security in order for the show to go on, which isn’t cheap.”
Their vigilance to “protect and serve” would be acceptable if it weren’t reeking of duplicity.
You can get shot anywhere in America. You can get shot in a neighborhood ravaged by a level of violence only immense poverty and a failure to address it can produce. You can get shot at a college or university, a high school, a middle school, or an elementary school. You can get shot at a movie theater at the hands of a soulless person with easy access to firearms. You can get shot at a Wal-Mart or on a sidewalk for no other reason than being black and breathing. Ask Bill Bratton about that last one.
Americans own more guns than cars and about half the world’s civilian firearms, and yet we are seven times more likely to die from gun violence than those living in other Western nations—nations, not so coincidentally, with far less gun ownership. The reality is that violent crime in the United States may have declined in recent decades, but America continues to rank among the worst countries in the world for gun deaths outside of war zones. In fact, it has been widely reported that “gunfire fatalities in the U.S. since 1968 outnumber American casualties in all the wars in the country’s history.”
We are an inherently violent society further soiled by gun manufacturers and the politicians their obscene profit margins have allowed them to buy off. But it’s easier to cancel rap concerts and complain about “thugs” instead. All one has to do is play off pre-existing fears about black people. I’d much rather we talk about better security at events and decreasing your average American’s access to firearms than entertain nonsensical arguments about why some of us can no longer go to that YG concert.
Bratton can talk all he wants, and the NYPD can pressure promoters as much as it wants. It won’t change the fact that any one of us could step outside now and catch a stray bullet, though. It’ll only remind many of us that even something as normal to America as gun violence has to be racially polarized because as much as this country loves its guns, it loves its bigotry even more.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.