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Rap, Gangsta’ and a dead teen

11-Jun-2008

There is a sad and serious item in my local area: a young man of 17 was shot and killed by a St. Petersburg, Fl, police officer on Saturday, June 7th. Whenever lethal use of force must be employed, it is sad; but it is doubly so when the person who died is still a minor.

I must qualify right now that, for a short time, I was a sworn officer in the St. Petersburg police department. At the very least, I can testify to how serious any officer in that department takes using lethal force. The training and department culture lend itself to officers never wanting to draw their weapons – and *never* wanting to shoot another human being.

This young boy, Javon Dawson, who never had a criminal record before, died because he made a seriously bad choice. He was in a large crowd of people, shooting a revolver, apparently shooting both vertically and horizontally. Police came out to clear out the crowds of people, and Javon refused to put his gun down when ordered to by an officer. By accounts in the news, Dawson turned away from the officer, and then pointed his gun behind him. The officer shot Javon twice, killing him.

Javon is black. The officer who shot him white. A group of extremists in St. Petersburg, the Uhurus, are attempting to portray this as police murder. Javon’s father is quoted as saying “They took my son’s, … took his life. The St. Petersburg Police Department took my son’s life.” A witness to Dawson’s death said “I was screaming and crying. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is somebody’s child.’ ” Finally, a neighbor of Javon’s said “I don’t think he deserved to die. I never seen him fight. Never seen him get mad. All you saw was him trying to flirt with girls.”

Why would this teen, who “never[got] mad”, shoot a gun in a crowded street? Why would he *ever* consider disobeying an officer’s order to put the gun down, let alone point it at the officer? For me, I think the answer lies in his MySpace page.

Like many young people, Javon was a fan of so-called “gangsta” rap. His MySpace page has a video of Dawson with blaring rap in the background, while he punches the air telling the n*****s to “back down”, to shut the f*** up, and “I’d better not get my hands on you”. At the end of the video, he picks up what appears to be a gun, and points it at the camera. Other pictures on his page show him in various fighting stances. Mostly outside. I guess his neighbor missed these action scenes.

In the comments section of this news story, many people have remarked on his violent MySpace page. One commenter though, had this to say: “SO WHAT! I’d guess half the teenage males on my space, certainly half the black male teens on my space take on that persona. Part of its interest to teens is the fact that its a place to put on airs where you don’t have to be yourself. Its a teen thing, and it means absolutly nothing as far as this case is concerned.

Frankly, I think that comment sums up the problem. So called “gangsta'” has permeated young minds, and affected their thinking. With such wholesome thoughts such as “F*** B******, Get money”, our children are being led down a path of self-destruction, careless attitudes towards our fellow human beings, and the celebration of narcissism.

Yes, similar things have been said about other music, television, movies and video games before. Studies have shown only a mild affect, if at all, from exposure to violence on these mediums. However, two points must be made before dismissing attacks on “gangsta” rap as just another witch hunt: 1) It is true that media HAS affected our views on sex and our attitudes towards our neighbors, and more importantly 2) “gangsta” is a full immersion medium. It is not just a musical medium – it is a philosophy of its own. This is unlike all of the others.

Rap started as an outlet for artists in low income and crime ridden areas to express themselves. It evolved. The cruder, the harsher, the more violent, the more selfish, the better. The way youth, particularly black youth, are trying to emulate these artists is, in my mind, unprecedented. To some extent, this did happen in the ’60s. Timothy Leary told a generation to “tune in, turn on, drop out”. Many did, to their own destruction. However, in the ’60s, we took exception to these messages, and many pushed back. Those who fully immersed in the Leary like attitudes were relatively few, and were harmed for it.

Not so rap. It has been reluctantly accepted. Our children are emulating these lifestyles while we believe “it means absolutly nothing”. Instead of the community banding together and try to make sure the “gangsta” philosophical attitudes do not kill another young person, we blame the police; society; whites; government. It can’t be the rap songs which encourage the brandishing of guns, and celebrate the killing of cops – no, it is the cops fault that he shot when a gun was pointed at him. After all, rap is just music, right?

We are concerned that sports figures use drugs or get arrested. Why? Because we know that these public persons are role models for our youth. So, why do we believe that “gangsta” rap is different? Immersion into sports can have consequences, but immersion into “gangsta” life styles can’t?

It is time the community, and especially the black community, came together, and start guiding our youth. Get our children away from music that does nothing but tear down, and show them how to be constructive. Teach them that attitudes make or break them – and the adoption of “gangsta” attitudes CAN get you killed. Show them that being dead is not glorious; you are just dead. It is time that we, the people, put an end to the evils “gangtsa” rap would instill in a generation.

How many more Javons will it take? When will we say “enough!”? Will Javon be the last? I hope so; but it is unlikely – until you AND I do something.

I hope Javon has found his peace. My sincere condolences go out to his family. I would give this advice to them though: if you have any other minor age children, get them away from “gangsta” rap, and teach them what it means to be a productive member of our society.

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