Look at the progression of hip-hop, and you will understand exactly why Baltimore is burning.
In the summer of 1982, with the birth of hip-hop in New York City, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released “The Message.” You probably heard the song before, but chances are you didn’t catch what they were saying.
“The Message” represents beyond what was happening in the South Bronx, but like today, it continues to represent what is happening in disenfranchised communities of color around the country.
With lyrics like, “You’ll grow in the ghetto living second-rate, and your eyes will sing a song called deep hate,” it’s not surprising to hear Baltimore is angry. A decade later, the message continues, and hip-hop is communicating it stronger and louder.
In a 1994 interview, journalist Abbie Kearse asks rapper Tupac Shakur, “How did we get from Grand Master Flash’s, 'The Message,' to where we are now, in hip-hop?”
At 1:55, he captures it perfectly:
“We asked 10 years ago,” Tupac says, “We was asking with the Panthers, we was asking with the Civil Rights Movement, we was asking. Now all those people that were asking are all dead or in jail. So now what do you think we’re gonna do? And we shouldn’t be angry? And my raps to my community shouldn’t be filled with rage?”
Sure, the media has shared the short end of the story: Freddie Gray, a young black man, died under the custody of police, with injuries spanning from a severed spine to a smashed larynx.
Gray never received medical attention for these injuries, despite his pleas. He also never received medical attention for the lead poisoning he suffered as a child.
Likewise, Baltimore hasn’t received the proper attention it needs. Products of racism like hyper-segregation and an empty pool of resources has led to inadequate schools, extensive unemployment rates, ongoing poverty and an especially unjust and oppressive police force.
As human beings, how could we expect Baltimoreans not to be fed up? What happens in times of war when people are hungry, when people are being killed and families are being torn apart?
Day after day, people of color in Baltimore go without justice as they live among an ongoing war with police.
The riots in Baltimore are just one of many battles; the riots in Ferguson and the riots in Watts are examples of the same.
A war is going on — a war between people of color fighting for survival and a police force that refuses to give up their control.
“After a year,” Tupac reiterates, “We just like, I’m picking the lock coming through the door blasting, you know what I’m saying? You hungry, you reached your level.”
However, this isn’t the only prediction Tupac had that has already come true. Look at what’s happening between leaders of rival gangs, such as the Crips and Bloods.
What could be more threatening to cops than gangs working together to take back the control of their communities?
While in jail, watch as Tupac explains the plan at 5:18:
Baltimore is where it’s happening. Regardless of how the media has spun it, gang leaders have stepped up to work together.
In “Amid Violence, Factions and Messages Converge in a Weary and Unsettled Baltimore,” Ron Nixon shares what these young men have to say:
“One of the Crips members, who called himself Charles, wearing a red Chicago Bulls Derrick Rose T-shirt, said the gang members had taken to the street because ‘there is only so far that you can push people into a corner.’ ‘We’re frustrated,’ he continued, ‘and that’s why we’re out there in the streets.’ Charles said Mr.Gray had brought gangs together.”
The media has portrayed these gangs as violent thugs, but what about the police?
“I think this country is built on gangs, I think this country is still run on gangs. Republicans and Democrats, the police department, the CIA, those are gangs, you know what I mean?"
Is Tupac wrong? Are institutions like the police predominantly just a big gang by bullying, killing and stealing from Baltimoreans? Is that not how we have defined what it means to be a gang?
“We are all starting to believe that holding hands, following pastors and peaceful protests are pointless,” writes D. Watkins, an educator and native of Baltimore. “The only option is to rise up, and force Mayor Rawlings-Blake to make what should be an easy choice: Stop protecting the livelihoods of the cops who killed Freddie Gray, or watch Baltimore burn to the ground.”
In the words of Malcolm X, “The chickens came home to roost.”