Lupe Fiasco Pens Thought-Provoking Open Letter On Our Nation's Police Force
The last few months have proved to be as heavy and emotionally charged as any in recent memory. And while many within the hip-hop community have commented on the unspeakable tragedies of the Charleston shooting, and more recently, the possible murder of Sandra Bland, Lupe Fiasco has proven to be as strong a voice for the victims of those crimes as we've seen from entertainers or public figures at large. His latest open letter is a hefty one, delving into the relationship between our nation's law enforcement and those they are intended to protect; that is to say, where the divide and mistrust is rooted and how to move forward as a people. It's the lengthiest address yet, but if you have a cool 15 minutes to spare, it's as thought-provoking as anything you'll see on the matter, arriving like his last few via his personal Instagram account. Read Lupe Fiasco's open-letter to our nation's law enforcement below.
The Police. A letter. The police are not your friend. The police are not your enemy. The same could be said about the law. So let’s say it. The law is not your friend and the law is not your enemy. So what are the police then if they are not friends nor enemies. Well let’s get a definition of the word ‘Police’ from the dictionary: “the civil force of a national or local government, responsible for the prevention and detection of crime and the maintenance of public order.” And while we’re at it lets get a dictionary definition of ‘Law’ as well: “the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties.” Nowhere in the definition does it say “friend” or “enemy” even though some police officers can be friendly and some can be really antagonistic (see the famed “Good Cop/Bad Cop” routine for an explicit example) it is not the nature of their position in society to be friend or foe. So what are the police then?
The firmest designation for the police is their primary title “Law Enforcement Officer” and again the law is neither your friend or foe so then the police are a merely reflection of the law. Police are the physical manifestation of the law. The police occupy a middle ground of sorts. They are mostly benign in the sense that if they have no particular law to enforce then they are powerless. Also where the law is broken and can’t be seen or is out of the conscious knowledge of the police they are also powerless as is the law itself. Law is only powerful when it comes into direct contact with its child, Criminality. Crime and our relationship to crime is much closer to us than our relationship to the law. Everybody bends or breaks the law in some very minute capacity. We may speed on the highway from time to time. Throw litter on the ground. Lie on our taxes. Disregard a jury duty summons. Download pirated content. Where we feel the law doesn’t “count” or “make sense” we are inclined to transgress the limits.
Furthermore Crime is celebrated in all annals of entertainment and culture. In movies and books and song and TV. When was the last time you heard a song on the radio about the fabulous and sexy lifestyles of being a cop? In movies and TV it is much different as police officers are portrayed as being heroic figures but how many times within those same films or TV shows a police officer goes “outside” the law to rectify some injustice or solve some crime. How many movie cops had to “give up their badge” to the captain because they broke the rules to catch the bad guy? In effect they had to become criminals to enforce to the law. Think of Batman. Commissioner Gordon uses him when things get a little too out of hand in Gotham City and he needs somebody who isn’t bound to the letter of the law and all that that entails to deal with the villainous hordes. This maybe “fictional” but then again is it really? How many real life cops put guns and drugs on people to get an arrest possibly on people who they know for a fact are committing serious crimes but can’t prove it? How many cops “invent” a probable cause to effect a search of someone’s property and eventually “find what they were looking for” even though what they found was not the initial reason they stopped the person? How many cops beat confessions out of people? How many cops flat out lie when it comes to what they saw or did during arrests and follow up investigations? How many cops have used terroristic threats to get people to comply to testifying or admitting to things they didn’t commit? How many cops work for the same criminals they are employed to pursue in the forms of bribes and information? But then how many citizens do the same exact things? “Police Officer” and “Law Enforcement Officer” are just titles, roles, positions, names. No different than “typewriter” or “car.” What gives these things life are the people that use them. Some people just do not know how to type or drive and it must be said that some people just don’t know how to be police officers in strict accordance with the law.
One problem is that becoming a police officer or law enforcement officer is a very structured and ordered bureaucratic process. It is very rigid and rather systematic. It is literally uniformed to stand as the visible and physical counterpoint to the non-uniformed wildness that is on the one smaller end, society itself and on the other larger end, criminality. Crime is subtle and blends well into the wild variety of society. Crime is successful because it is asymmetric and forever evolving. It can go unnoticed. Hence why the most successful police operations are done “undercover” and the most visible criminal activities are the least successful. The ability to blend into the “wildness” of society and mimic it is the best tactic for success outside of pure anarchy. Crime is highly adaptable. It is highly revered because its heroes have excellent leadership qualities and in some cases very deep philanthropic sentiments. Crime is the true equal opportunity employer and is one of the only organizations to successfully overcome the racial divides. Criminals are the embodiment of the material American Dream. Freedom (even from taxation!), upward mobility and the pursuit of happiness. All crimes have victims but one could say quite successfully that all things have victims. In the business world, victims are classified under the term externalities. For example, some people call perfectly legal mountain top removal coal mining a crime against humanity as it has the potential to build up then completely destroy entire communities not to mention the sometimes irreversible environmental externalities. Laws sometimes have a weird way of creating their own criminal enemies, hence the “child” term used earlier. Take for instance prohibition, it was a perfectly sound moral concept to combat what was seen by some as the scourge of drunkenness and all its hideous social and moral externalities, just imagine drunk driving back in the 20’s! This perfectly sound moral law however single handedly created the mafia, the worlds greatest and most successful organized criminal enterprise.
The emergence of the mafia lead to the creation of the FBI which was needed to be a “higher” form of law enforcement to combat the mob. The FBI tactics included all sorts of law bending and law creation to try and successfully tackle the problem the same government that employed them unwittingly created in the first place. The cultural impact of the mafia was instantaneous and deep even up to this day. For example, we all know off top who Al Capone was but would struggle to find out who the president of the United States was during the time Al Capone was alive. And without Google today I’d say some of us would probably never know or even care to find out. The legal limits were stretched to fight the mafia then and they are still being stretched to this day to justify your parking ticket or your “failure to signal.” So what does all this mean? Is it right? Is it wrong? Is it fair? Is there a solution? Unfortunately and fortunately there is no one solution. Law enforcement and criminality are like hand and glove. They are forever connected and as long as you have one you’ll have the other and all the externalities from both sides that come along with them. Abuse of authority by authority will be balanced somewhere on the other side by abuse of the system by criminality. Freddy Grey dies unjustly in police custody on one side and El Chapo escapes from prison on the other side. An eye for and eye to be biblical about it. One hard solution to swallow for many is to just obey the law. Buuuuuut this “simple” solution also can create a set of dubious illegitimate children of its own because the law inextricably represents much more than its face value of “do not do and you will not be punished” for some “obey” is equated to “starve” or “go without” or “be poor” or “be insulted” or “be bored” or “be trapped in a vicious circle of economic and academically induced depression simply because I lost the biological lottery of life and was born into a family of second or third class citizens at a time and place where social status is dictated by race which also dictates access to the apparatuses of upward mobility etc etc etc…”
Sometimes “obey” explicitly means die. This is the root of the plague of vendetta that is sweeping through Chicago. The ever viral and ever rational and true “Kill Or Be Killed” mentality. For some “obey” MEANS “punishment.” This misunderstanding of metaphorical process when it comes to how we refer, frame and live through the narratives of our individual lives is what causes much of the conflict. Objective law has little wiggle room for subjective reality. What “law enforcement officer” means in a dictionary and the courts can be far from the definition that it has on the streets and in practice. Police officers can be defined on the streets as surely protecting and serving but protecting and serving the wills of a corrupt authoritative system that if allowed to have its way will mean poverty forever and access denied ad infinitum. Police officers must be trained to assess not only the dangers of a situation but also the desperation of a situation. Is it just a coincidence that a synonym for criminal is “Desperado”? Law Enforcement has to become much more in tune and educated with the needs (material, PSYCHOLOGICAL, spiritual and cognitive) of the communities it is tasked with patrolling and if they are unable or unwilling to take on the entire scope of their position then they should find work elsewhere. Most police will respond to this by saying that such a comprehensive approach is not in there job description and will have little to no effect on the streets. One must then in reply confront them with the nature of law itself. Law is connected to the mentalities of man. It seeks to control or less invasively patrol the passions and actions of man which stem directly from his mind. And if you cannot fully comprehend the mind of a man as an externality of the environment in which he inhabits then how can you fully understand the mechanics of law itself? Again Law and the mind are like hand and glove.
Some cops will say that it is for the courts to decide. However, one must argue back plainly that judges, prison guards and prosecutors don’t walk the streets or patrol the beats and they rely on and TRUST police officers and their presupposed understanding of the law to bring cases before them that only meet or exceed the requirements set out by the law. That is why POLICE OFFICERS HAVE TO TESTIFY IN COURT because they are considered to be expert witnesses in terms of criminal justice and are expected to expose the very fine details of active criminality that a DA stuck in an office or a judge stuck behind a bench does not have the time nor mental hard drive space to process thoroughly. Be clear on two things: This is not meant to be a belittling or a rebuke of the police or the letter and spirit of the law. I have 3 siblings with long careers in law enforcement as police officers, correctional officers and sheriffs. This is also not an approval of criminality. I have exponentially many more family and friend who have been involved in the world of crime and it is nothing to brag about or applaud as a successful life to lead. Most of the time it has ended in death or prison or both. Both these institutions are reflections of the human condition and our understandings and misunderstandings of the way the world is “supposed” to work. The death of Sandra Bland is the perfect example of when these two amorphous and wandering institutions get it all the way wrong. Sandra perceived the law enforcement officer to be a law enforcement officer and all that that entails in control of his emotions and strictly subservient to the rule of law when in fact he retreated to criminality and reverted to lawlessness to prosecute what he perceived to be a disrespectful criminal threat in Sandra as opposed to her being a law abiding but pressurized citizen questioning the lawfulness of her stop. Her death in jail is a reflection of the misunderstanding of the mental pressure even the tiniest amount of perceived injustice can do to a person.
While I hesitate to judge her cause of death I feel comfortable in saying that if it was suicide it speaks to the depth of the belief we as humans have in right and wrong. Sometimes people would rather die than face the injustices of this world and it doesn’t need to be years or decades to decay someone to such a state it can take hours or days. Even seconds. The direct connection between The Law and The Mind is something that needs to taken very seriously by not only police officers but also by the rank and file citizen. The FULL scope of Law and Law Enforcement and Criminality and what effects they all have on the already overly sensitized and tandemically overly desensitized psyches of the communities they inhabit needs to become a dominant issue in culture. So while law enforcement officers may by definition not be our “friends” it might be time that they damn well think about becoming them or at least stray from acting as our enemies. And it might do us well to accept them as “friends” if they honestly extend the offer and not make ourselves enemies to them based on what we see in the trending multimediums as “Brand Cop.” Otherwise we together run the risk of giving birth to a new child, one that will feed not on milk but instead off the flesh and blood of its parents.
Wasalu “Lupe” Jaco