By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
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By Steve Almond
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Jay-Z had just wrapped up a surprise performance at Manhattan's Exit early on April 13, 2001. He left the club with bodyguard Hamza Hewitt, and entered a waiting SUV. Before the car could get more than a few yards, it was pulled over. When the cops searched the car and its occupants, a gun was found on Hewitt, who is licensed to carry one, but not in this state. Police said they had seen the gun. All four men in the car were arrested and charged with weapons possession. Jay-Z's charges were later dropped.
Last New Year's Eve, 50 Cent was on his way to a gig at Manhattan's Copacabana. His rented SUV had just pulled in front of the club when police appeared in an undercover taxicab. The officers forced the men to drive around the corner where the police conducted a search. Two firearms, a .45 and a .25, were found on the floor of the car. All the occupants were charged with weapons possession even though 50's guards claimed ownership of the guns.
Although rappers are the ones catching most of the harassment, reports of police presence at Hip Hop-related parties are now common. In early November at Nell's, police raided an open-mic event known as "Braggin Rites." Eyez, one of the series' founders, was outside the club when the police appeared.
"When the cops arrived they ran up in the club next door [2ii's]," said Eyez, "where they were having some sort of reggae party. Then they came up in Nell's. They looked around and couldn't find anything. They kept [badgering] until they found one grown-ass woman who was obviously of legal drinking age but didn't have ID though she had a drinking [wrist] band. The cops hit the owners with a summons. Because of that summons [the owners] no longer want to hold Braggin Rites events."
One of New York's leading club promoters says that such occurrences are not at all infrequent. In fact the cops hang out in and around the clubs he promotes, looking for violations and harassing partygoers. One of New York's top party promoters, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Voice he's sure there's a Hip Hop unit in the NYPD.
"Hell yeah, there's a Hip Hop unit. Not only are they outside my parties in droves almost every night in uniforms and plainclothes, they also come in the clubs wearing some Sean John apparel, buying bottles with taxpayer money, trying to fit in and observe who's who." When asked how he knew they were cops if they were undercover, he chuckled, then added, "Because the bouncers make them leave the clips from their guns at the door."
"It's a culture that cops find very offensive," Lieutenant Tony Mazziotti said about Hip Hop on mtvnews.com. "I tell my 16-year-old daughter I don't want her listening to it. She'll have a hard time memorizing the Pledge of Allegiance, but she'll know all these rap lyrics by heart. Frankly, it's tough for cops to have objectivity about it. It's the total antithesis of what most cops believe. . . . To [rappers], that's a badge of honor, but when you've seen the ugly side of what they're praising, when you've seen the reality, that's what's offensive," Mazziotti said. "As cops we've been there to notify families at 3 a.m. that their loved one was just murdered. These guys want to glamorize guns and the drug trade, but there's a lot of innocent people whose lives are ruined, little kids getting killed in random shootings, and for them to glorify that lifestyle, it's just repulsive to most cops."
So often, the plain facts are grossly overlooked. Remember at the end of "The Message" video when Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five get arrested for just rapping on the street corner? Though the media lately has been churning out one-sided stories about police activity within the Hip Hop world, the plague of police terrorism is nothing new. When Hip Hop was just a thought bubble, communities of color were marginalized and brutalized. The war on crime is the same war as the war on drugs is the same war as the war on Hip Hop. People get ready.