Straight Outta Compton to Charleston: the stale face of racial tensions in the US

Easy-E mural, March 2010 by Christiaan Triebert

Nothing about Straight Outta Compton – the origins of N.W.A (Niggaz With Attitude), the story of Eazy-E, the depiction of a young and wreckless Dr. Dre – hit me as hard as the familiar picture of white cops beating young black men.

In one scene, Ice Cube tells a disgruntled media “our art is a reflection of our reality”. I’ve grown up as part of a generation where Kiss FM unapologetically plays explicit music – Straight Outta Compton reminded me of the struggles that made it possible to hear about living with racist police and gun crime on your street.

Despite the barriers broken down by N.W.A. and its members, black people continue to be the victims of racially motivated violence in the US, with no real sign of progress.

Recurring examples of this are statistics on police killings in America. The data from source to source varies, but all of them show that blacks are more likely to die at the hands of police officers than whites.

According to the US’s Bureau of Justice Statistics on “arrest-related deaths” between 2003 to 2009, 41.7 percent of victims were white and 31.7 percent were black. This is inarguably disproportionate as black people only make up about 13 percent of the US population.

Despite what conservative Americans would have you believe, it’s important to note that white people are arrested more than twice as often as black people in the US and that anti-black hate crimes occur three times more than next largest bias.

Though only 13% of America’s population is black, the same minority accounts for a disproportionate 28% of arrests. Last year an analysis of statistics found at least 70 police departments that arrested black people at a rate 10 times higher than non-blacks – in Dearborn, Michigan, the arrest rate was 26 times higher.

In light of these numbers and persistent evidence of anti-black police brutality, it’s hard to believe that racial targeting isn’t at least partially responsible for the population-arrest ratio disparity. Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was famously gunned down by a white officer in Missouri last year, leading to riots. More recently a store camera in New York caught the moment Thomas Jennings put his hands up peacefully, only to be brutalized.

As such it’s easy to see why, 30 years latter, N.W.A.’s “Fuck tha Police” is still a relevant protest anthem.

But the stale racial attitudes depicted in the film extended beyond just the police – there have been several recent examples of racially motivated murders, such as the shootings in Charleston, where a gunman opened fire on a black congregation in a bid to start a race war.

Charleston, Thomas Jennings and Michael Brown are sadly just symptoms of the pervasive racist disease N.W.A. spoke out about nearly 30 years ago.

Despite Barack Obama becoming the first black president; despite the meteoric rise of black pop culture in hip-hop and R&B music; despite Compton’s own Dr. Dre going on to become one of the richest artists in America, the same racial attitudes seen in Straight Outta Compton are still alive and thriving today.

Perhaps comedian Dave Chappelle said it best: “A kid gets killed by the police and I buy a t-shirt. And before I can wear that one, there’s another kid [killed] and I’m running out of closet space.”

Image Credit – Easy-E mural, March 2010 by Christiaan Triebert

J. C. Servante

J. C. Servante

Freelance writer, reviewer and blogger. Politically speculative. Can be found at donkeyokay.com

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