Last night, a concert at New York City's Irving Plaza was interrupted by gunfire shortly before a headlining set by T.I. Three people, including rapper Troy Ave, were reportedly injured; Ronald McPhatter, a.k.a. B$B Banga, 33, whom outlets have identified as a friend of Troy Ave’s, died later at Beth Israel Hospital. Many outlets have seen it fit to talk about the criminal records of both T.I., who as far as is currently known had no involvement in the shooting, and McPhatter, a dead man. At a press conference held shortly after the shooting, NYPD chief of Manhattan detectives William Aubry said authorities had “no description of the suspects, and no one in custody, although police [were] recovering ballistic evidence.”
These are the facts as of this writing, but NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton has already begun to push another narrative on the public. Earlier today, Bratton went on WCBS 880 to comment on the shooting. “The crazy world of the so-called rap artists, who are basically thugs that basically celebrate violence they did all their lives — unfortunately that violence often manifests itself during their performances, and that’s exactly what happened last evening,” he said. “The music unfortunately oftentimes celebrates violence, celebrates degradation of women, celebrates the drug culture.” He added that he was confident the investigation would be “wrapped up very quickly.”
Bratton is a key architect of a racist, ad hoc policing system — Stop and Frisk — that has sanctioned the unconstitutional searches, harassments, and arrests of hundreds of thousands of black and brown people in New York City and beyond. It is almost impossible, as a person of color, to have passed through the streets of New York City without having been harassed by an NYPD officer at least once in one’s life. I myself can attest to this fact. (In the interests of full disclosure, I'll also note that I participated in and wrote about the protest that shut down a talk by former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly at Brown University in 2013.) Bratton is also an early adopter of “broken windows” policing, a set of racist and speculative practices that unfairly and exorbitantly criminalize behaviors like public drinking, loitering, vandalism, and gathering in groups. “Broken windows” is widely considered a failure of both successful policing and national morality. A pseudo-criminologist who’s improved upon a system of oppression no more sophisticated than the 19th-century slave patrol that is the origin of American policing, a politician who talks like a phrenologist, Bratton has somehow managed to gain little notoriety for his work.
Today, we put him on blast. Never mind that his hurried, peacocking display on the radio this morning showed no concern whatsoever for the actual victims, or, frankly, any competence in working to investigate how the shootings occurred. At one point, Bratton even allowed the interviewer to spread information that negates his very own squad’s investigation about where the shooting began — an example of the negligence that is one of the ways police officers in New York and across this country underserve black communities. Bratton grossly co-opted an episode of violence that shook his city’s citizens, taking this tragedy as an opportunity to shit on his city’s culture. The contempt for something that he doesn’t understand — namely, that rap and all the cultures it spawned and originated from are about black survival, in spite of those very systems that would quell it — inspired him to foist this old, tired narrative on a situation that did not warrant it. We know the code. When you say “thug,” you might as well just say “nigger.”
Rap is art. It’s real and not real, a dramatization of some parts of a life to create entertainment — just as white art forms have done for millennia with impunity. The black men and women who have carved this thing out of despair, oppression, and ancestral style are not unthinking, violent brutes. They are not “thugs,” to use his brutal language. They’re not gun-happy automatons who simply transpose violence onto beats. Rappers are artists. Is that so hard to comprehend? That they’ve found such an exceptional muse in the ugly things in our world — ugly systems Bratton himself helped build during their adolescence — makes rappers the real keepers of our city, not Bratton and his incompetent thugs.