Tunes of the Times: Police Brutality
February 20, 2016
The Association for the Study of Negro Life and History announced in 1926 that the second week of February would be “Negro History Week,” which was the precursor to Black History Month, celebrated in today’s United States.
Artists today continue to address social injustices that affect themselves and others. Artists like James Brown, Michael Jackson and Tupac are commonly known for songs suggesting peace and equality. Rock artists such as David Bowie and the Red Hot Chili Peppers released songs inspired by racial tensions. Bowie’s Black Tie White Noise was inspired by the racial tensions formed after the 1991 beating of Rodney King, and American motorist, at the hands of four white police officers. The song refers to the racial boundaries enforced in the western hemisphere. Bowie used black and white in the title to allude to the strict ideas that influence understandings of social issues; many do not realize there are shades of grey.
In the past few years, a subject most people believed was already handled after the civil rights movement has appeared on headlines throughout the entire nation. The topic of police brutality resurfaced and the Black Lives Matter movement emerged as a leading platform for racial equality across the nation.
Artists such as U2 and Pink Floyd have addressed issues concerning politics, disease, social injustice and political corruption, seizing the opportunity to make a difference through their songs.
In 2013, the Black Lives Matter movement formed after the Trayvon Martin case in Florida which found a white citizen guilty for the killing of an unarmed black teenager. The film Straight Outta Compton was released soon after.
“When I’m called off, I got sawed off. Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off,” resembles the reoccurring theme of violence in today’s police force. These lyrics from N.W.A’s 1989 track are still relevant today.
The King of Pop also took action in giving the public a voice through his lyrics. In the song They Don’t Care About Us Michael Jackson sings, “I am the victim of police brutality, now I’m tired of bein’ the victim of hate. You’re rippin’ me of my pride for God’s sake.” The intense clattering rhythm appeals to the audience and complements the theme of the song.
Jackson’s song brims with examples of unjustified actions supported by the government. In saying “Your proclamation promised me free liberty, now I’m tired of bein’ the victim of shame. They’re throwing me in a class with a bad name, I can’t believe this is the land from which I came,” Michael Jackson emphasizes that we live in a nation where people are said to have equal rights, yet still encounter police homicides provoked by racism.
The 14th Amendment states that we live in a country where all citizens have equal rights. When someone that works for our government, such as police officers, fail to abide by these laws, the affected members of our nation feel the need to speak up.
Police brutality has sparked unrest and caused people to question whether or not police officers act on morality or on cultural beliefs. As Bruce Springsteen sang in American Skin (41 shots), “You can get killed just for living in your American skin.”
The Star-Spangled Banner has become a symbol of American beliefs. African-Americans such as Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston, Diana Ross and Alicia Keys have sung the national anthem, which generated pride in several Americans. The song surges a central burst of patriotism and it has brought much needed attention to injustice and equality. If Americans hope to move past this time of racial injustice, we must validate the claim that this is in fact “the land of the free.”