Saturday, October 24, 2015

Is Great Hip Hop Compatible With Broken Windows Policing? A New York Story

When you look at videos from the Golden Age of Hip Hop in NYC, whether it is from Gang Starr, MC Lyte Eric B and Rakim,and Public Enemy, or slightly later,Jay-Z, Nas, Wu-Tang or Biggie, you will see scenes of young Black man and women gathered in large numbers in streets, and schoolyards and in front of stores in ways which would never be tolerated in today's gentrifying New York. Gatherings of that size by young men and women wearing hoodies or thick jackets, looking fierce and defiant, would be broken up by police, whether in Red Hook, Harlem,Bed Stuy, Soundview or the Stapleton section of Staten Island. The Cypher, where MC's test their skills against each other in publc settings, sometimes in front of crowds, would have a hard time surviving the vigilance of Broken Windows Policing with a hugely expanded NYPD. It would also not find much of a welcome in schools which are far more heavily policed than they were 30 years ago, and where the model of zero tolerance disciplinary policies have spread from charters into many public schools
But that raises a question. Can you have great hip hop where young people of color can't gather in large numbers without being arrested or told to move by police? Where you can't have spontaneous cyphers in schools or in the streets? Where in fact there is no place where young people of color can feel is their own without the heavy hand of authority imposing on their space and stifling their voice.
So if you wonder, where is the next Jay-Z, where is the next Biggie, where is the next Nas, where is the next MC Lyte, you might want to consider how we police housing projects, schools and neighborhoods where poor and working class people in New York City still live
Although to tell the truth, the very presence of such people in New York City is itself at risk given housing and investment policies that raise rents and home prices out of their reach and now propose to make even public housing land fair game for developers