Ice-T's distortions don't make art

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

August 06, 1992|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

The Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police had every right to be outraged by Ice-T's rap song "Cop Killer" even though its protest at the stadium Monday appeared to be both late and fruitless.

I'm outraged, too.

This isn't a cop thing, a black-white thing or even a freedom of speech thing.

This is a question of values, of right vs. wrong, of truth vs. falsehood, of responsibility vs. a blatant disregard for the public good.

I don't believe in censorship. But screaming loud and long when something offends our sensibilities is not censorship. Sometimes that is the only way to hold corporations responsible for their actions.

In "Cop Killer," Ice-T raps, "I got my 12-gauge sawed off / I got my headlights turned off / I'm about to bust some shots off / I'm 'bout to dust some cops off."

Ice-T has defended the lyrics by arguing that he, personally, is not advocating killing police officers, at least not per se. He is simply playing a role.

"At no point," he said in June, "do I go out and say, 'Let's do it.' I'm singing in the first person as a character who is fed up with police brutality. I ain't never killed no cop," continued the millionaire rapper. "I felt like it a lot of times. But I never did it."

But no matter how you look at it, Ice-T is portraying the gangster as a hero in the inner city, and nothing could be further from the truth.

People in the inner city feel far more terrorized by the mindless violence of the gangsters than by the police.

This year alone, two dozen children have been hit by stray bullets while shootouts occurred on crowded inner city streets. Four times this year, young mothers have been shot as they cradled their children in their arms, protecting them from the gunfire.

And not once did any of these victims, their neighbors, or anyone else with an ounce of responsibility and common sense express a desire to strike back against this violence by "dusting off a cop."

Ice-T also would have us believe that the killing of cops is a political statement-- a way of striking out against police brutality -- and that, too, is a lie.

There remains a great deal of distrust toward the police in poor communities. Rarely, for instance, do the personnel of police departments reflect the inner cities they serve. And there are far more incidents of police misconduct than departments acknowledge.

As a result, most urban departments are under considerable pressure to reform. And yes, most departments have been painfully slow to react.

But rarely, if ever, do people in the inner city turn to the gangsters for leadership in their campaign against police misconduct.

Rarely, if ever, do ordinary people take a gangster's assertion that he is some kind of a revolutionary in the mold of the Black Panthers or the Black Muslims as anything other than what it is -- a pretentious and blatantly false way to rationalize their criminal conduct.

Gangsters rarely make that claim, anyway, until they are hauled into court. On the streets, they are too busy killing each other and preying on their neighbors to put out press statements. They leave that to their rap-star groupies.

Finally, Ice-T wraps his work in the banner of artistic truth and, indeed, art that is true ought to be applauded and contemplated and debated so that we are all enriched and our understanding of life is expanded.

But lies and distortions and lame-brained rationales don't qualify as art.

Last week, Ice-T folded under public pressure and announced that "Cop Killer" would be dropped from future copies of his distastefully named album, "Body Count."

Nevertheless, members of FOP Lodge 3 staged a demonstration at Oriole Park at Camden Yards Monday, trying in vain to prevent baseball fans from participating in a Warner Bros. movie being shot there. It was a corporate affiliate, Warner Bros. Records, that decided that the sentiments expressed in "Cop Killer" were fit for public consumption.

Donald Helms, president of the local FOP lodge, said the idea was to express displeasure with the parent company for distributing the album in the first place. And, Helms is right.

Any fool can announce that he has something important to say. The real concern is why corporate executives so often agree with fools.

In June, Bob Merlis, a spokesman for Warner Bros. Records, defended "Cop Killer" by saying that although Ice-T's art is frightening to many, people had to view it within "the context of their inner-city sensibility."

Police were outraged. People in inner cities, their sensibilities constantly besieged by gangster violence, ought to have been outraged, too.

My only regret is that police marched alone Monday.

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