Gangsta stupidity mocks civil rights struggle

September 25, 2004|By GREGORY KANE

MEET Tyrone Devon "Fat Boy" Brown, knucklehead.

Brown was one of the guys who on May 7 fired into a crowd of students leaving a charity basketball game at Randallstown High School. Brown's day of reckoning for the incident that wounded four, including the now-paralyzed William Thomas III, came Thursday. Baltimore County Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh nailed Fat Boy with a 50-year bit.

About two weeks after the shooting, comedian Bill Cosby accused some blacks of not upholding their end of the bargain struck by black civil rights elders who made the walls of segregation, racism and discrimination come tumbling down. Speaking in Washington at a gathering to honor the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing school segregation, Cosby excoriated a "knucklehead" generation of black youths who abuse the English language, scorn learning and regard crime as a cultural imperative. Cosby has made similar comments on at least two other occasions.

Thus it was perhaps not surprising that Thomas' father, William Thomas Jr., talked directly to Brown in court during the sentencing. His remarks weren't exactly like Cosby's, but they might qualify as being in that proverbial different pew in the same church.

"Guys like me, my age," the elder Thomas said in a Sun article written by Jennifer McMenamin, "went to jail in Baltimore City, picketed and protested so guys your age can go to the movies, go ride a bus and eat a hamburger. Where have your minds gone?"

Thomas' question was probably rhetorical, but I'll take a stab at answering it anyway. Fat Boy's mind -- and the minds of God only knows how many other black youths like him -- has gone completely south. Anyone doubting it needs to only listen to their music.

That would be hip-hop and rap, for most of them, genres that are, to grossly understate the matter, simply not like those of the baby boomer generation.

Our elders had to put up with our passion for rock 'n' roll, rock, rhythm and blues, and soul. Whatever was wrong with our music, it never had lyrics like these: "You say you a gangsta, but you never popped nothing."

That's from 50 Cent's "Wanksta" single, a message, I'm told, to his rival Ja Rule that the latter isn't really a "gangsta" because he's never shot anybody.

How about this one from one of the summer's hottest rap tunes, "Lean Back" by Terror Squad featuring Fat Joe and Remy: "If you cross the line, damn right I'm gonna hurt you."

Oh, there's more from that one: "We gangstas and gangstas don't dance, we boogie. So never mind how we got in here with weapons and hoodies."

Can you discern a pattern developing here?

We don't know for sure if Fat Boy spent way too much of his time overdosing on this type of fare, but we shouldn't be surprised if he did. Brown followed almost to the letter the formula laid out in today's hip-hop and rap culture about how to respond when folks "cross the line." He made up his mind that he was "damn right" he was "gonna hurt" somebody, grabbed the weapon that was in the car and commenced to poppin' something.

Let me be clear about what I'm saying. It's not that rap and hip-hop cause knuckleheads like Fat Boy to be knuckleheads and do the things they do. It's worse than that. What I'm saying is the opposite: Many of the lyrics in hip-hop and rap are reflections of what is occurring in the underbelly of black America.

A culture of glorifying gangstas, pimps and thugs -- with the dreaded N-word (spelled with an "a" instead of an "er" on the end) as a leitmotif -- dominates what some charts indicate is now mainstream America's most popular music.

Thomas' comments to Brown -- and Cosby's to everybody else -- are reminders that this is not what guys like Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when they fought for equal rights in the 1950s and 1960s. Evers didn't take a slug in the back from a high-powered rifle in 1963 so that some of today's black youths could run around bragging about being thugs or pimps. The equal right for young black men to be gangstas isn't what King was fighting for when he was shot to death in Memphis in 1968.

All Cosby and Thomas -- and the rest of us old fogies -- want is for black youths to uphold their end of the bargain. The sacrifices have been made. The battles fought by the elders of today's black youths have been won. All they have to do is what Thomas' son -- who was supposed to be an electrical engineering student at Morgan State University -- did, which is seize on those opportunities.

Maybe Fat Boy, once his mind returns, can think about all these things for the next 50 years.

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