The ‘No Angel’ Negro

by lizard

The New York Times has deliberately stepped in another steaming pile of ugly with a piece today declaring Michael Brown to be ‘No Angel’:

Michael Brown, 18, due to be buried on Monday, was no angel, with public records and interviews with friends and family revealing both problems and promise in his young life. Shortly before his encounter with Officer Wilson, the police say he was caught on a security camera stealing a box of cigars, pushing the clerk of a convenience store into a display case. He lived in a community that had rough patches, and he dabbled in drugs and alcohol. He had taken to rapping in recent months, producing lyrics that were by turns contemplative and vulgar. He got into at least one scuffle with a neighbor.

Now, before y’all go and jump on the outrage train, I think it’s important to acknowledge the New York Times has a point: rapping can make negro men unpredictable. Usually cash money and big asses can satiate the primal urges of the negro, allowing for the profitable commodification of their urban sound for the privileged white suburban demographic. But not always.

Two recent examples of off-leash rappers highlight this stark racial reality. First up, Talib Kweli went off on CNN’s Don Lemon for interrupting his critique of CNN’s reporting. Kweli expounded on his frustration and regret for joining the spectacle in a post that really should be read in full. Here’s an excerpt:

I was asked to do an interview with Anderson Cooper. However, when I got there it was Don Lemon on set instead. Apparently, he was filling in for Cooper who had another interview somewhere. Lemon, who I had never met, is a polarizing figure in the black community, you either love him or you hate him. Although I’ve never paid enough attention to him to form an opinion either way, I was impressed that he was on a skateboard. It made him seem down to earth, and I looked forward to the exchange.

I’ve been interviewed on the news many times. Each time the interviewer made sure to say hi, greet me and thank me for coming down. Lemon did none of these things, and I found that odd. Still, I didn’t take it personal. I am not a big mainstream artist, I don’t expect everyone to know or even care about who I am.

Many people were happy at how this interview went. They agreed with my point and my stance. There were also many who were incredibly disappointed with me and felt the interview was a wasted opportunity that became a competition of egos instead. I am disappointed in myself for allowing the interview to become a spectacle which further distracts from the execution style killing of unarmed teenager Mike Brown. Even though I went in with the best intentions, I became a part of the spectacle.

I can’t imagine why a conscious hip-hop artist would get frustrated with a good, upstanding negro news anchor like Don Lemon who, just last summer, offered a simple 5-step fix for struggling black communities. And here they are:

“Here’s number five. Pull up your pants. If you’re sagging, I mean — I think it’s your self-esteem that is sagging and who you are as a person it’s sagging. Young people need to be taught respect and there are rules. […]

Number four now is the n-word. I understand poetic license, but consider this: I hosted a special on the n-word, suggesting that black people stop using it and that entertainers stop deluding yourselves or themselves and others that you’re somehow taking the word back. […]

Now number three. Respect where you live. Start small by not dropping trash, littering in your own communities. I’ve lived in several predominantly white neighborhoods in my life, I rarely, if ever, witnessed people littering. I live in Harlem now, it’s an historically black neighborhood, every single day I see adults and children dropping their trash on the ground when a garbage can is just feet away. Just being honest here. […]

Number two, finish school. You want to break the cycle of poverty? Stop telling kids they’re acting white because they go to school or they speak proper English. […]

And number one, and probably the most important, just because you can have a baby, it doesn’t mean you should. Especially without planning for one or getting married first. More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock. That means absent fathers. And the studies show that lack of a male role model is an express train right to prison and the cycle continues. So, please, black folks, as I said if this doesn’t apply to you, I’m not talking to you. Pay attention to and think about what has been presented in recent history as acceptable behavior. Pay close attention to the hip-hop and rap culture that many of you embrace. A culture that glorifies everything I just mentioned, thug and reprehensible behavior, a culture that is making a lot of people rich, just not you. And it’s not going to.”

(full transcript and video here)

The other rapper (one of my favorites) fronting a genre-busting lyrical overthrow of the capitalist system with his crew, The Coup, had the pleasure of being interviewed by a local Fox affiliate. As Spin reports, it didn’t go as planned:

The Coup’s frontman and occasional Tom Morello collaborator Boots Riley is known for being something of a political firebrand, but, as Cleveland Scene points out, a local Fox affiliate seems to have been blissfully unaware of that fact. The Oakland outfit was set to appear at LKWD Festival in the city on Saturday and festival organizer Kelly Flamos brought him along for an interview during one of the station’s daytime shows. Things did not go quite as Fox planned.

When asked to describe the Coup, Riley outlined his long-running musical project as “a punk-funk Communist revolution band,” which drew a puzzled response from the reporter on hand. That alone might have been enough to upset the Fox honchos, but he continued saying that his goals are to “make everyone dance while we’re telling them about how we need to get rid of the system” and that “exploitation is the primary contradiction in capitalism.”

It all seems like relatively innocent stuff, delivered in an exceedingly calm and matter-of-fact manner, but Flamos later posted an email she received from the station saying that Riley’s “rant” (a loaded word and bald-faced exaggeration) had “not only hurt our station’s credibility, but also the festival’s.

Here is the full email:



I wanted to talk to you about this morning. We set the interview times because have to (sic) hit specific times with live television. I had to get rid of the interview when you guys did not show on time, and now I regret putting it back in.

FOX 8 was not the time or opportunity for Boots to go on his political rant. With his statements he not only hurt our station’s credibility, but also the festival’s. I was looking to do a fun interview and it turned into something entirely different. We will not be reaching out for any interviews in the future.”


Boots Riley went to Twitter earlier today to further describe his understanding of the intentional marginalization of his perspective in a series of tweets you have to read:

The problem the FoxNews vid exposes is that it was a mistake4me2b on. MOST media outlets- music&news- dont have me on because of my ideas.

The letter from FoxNews producers exposes that the media forces ppl2edit the voicing of their opinion. “If u say XYZ, ur career will fail.”

If people dont get the message by reading between the lines, the gatekeepers will sometimes say it explicitly.

Some well-known friends of mine were told by music execs during Afghanistan bombing: if they spoke out against war- album wont come out.

The rationale was: speaking out against war would diminish record sales, &that media outlets wouldnt support, so the label couldnt risk it.

So if you wonder why more people don’t know about The Coup, that email gives you a glimpse as to why.

I mean, if ur a promoter, a media outlet threatening to blacklist you for facilitating The Coup is a damn good reason to not book The Coup.

There are MILLIONS of ppl in the US that think the way I do. U won’t hear them on media, so we have a distorted view of what ppl in US think

The reason that views like mine are kept from mainstream media is specifically so we don’t know how radical our own neighbors are.

Amen, Boots.

The New York Times No Angeling Michael Brown is disgusting. Meanwhile, Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Brown, is presumably still out of state, not indicted. Maybe, with reports that Wilson was previously employed in a police department that was DISBANDED because of racial tensions, the focus will shift to the dude who isn’t an unarmed black man shot six times and left to bleed on the street for hours before someone got a sheet to cover him. From the link:

The small city of Jennings, Mo., had a police department so troubled, and with so much tension between white officers and black residents, that the city council finally decided to disband it. Everyone in the Jennings police department was fired. New officers were brought in to create a credible department from scratch.

That was three years ago. One of the officers who worked in that department, and lost his job along with everyone else, was a young man named Darren Wilson.

This won’t go away because there will be more Michael Browns. More importantly this won’t go away because there is a tremendous accumulation of lesser indignities stemming from institutional racism that builds and builds and builds until something breaks.

  1. A slightly different perspective.

    • Your video aside (the guy makes valid points), I chuckled earlier this morning after I read this post, thinking “I’ll bet the first comment comes from Swede,” a guy from Alaska who lives in Montana and so is well qualified to speak about black/white tensions.

  2. evdebs

    I was distressed to hear about and see the video of the convenience store incident because it would immensely distract from the question about how this kid got killed and why.

    The truth is, the public still doesn’t know the answer to that question and most of the publicity since, including that sympathetic to the victim and to raising the subject of the overall stress that is maintained by our racial divide hasn’t brought much light but rather instead, considerable heat to the situation.

    I think this kid got shot twice in the head when I think he was either on his hands and knees or on his stomach with his head raised toward Wilson when the last two shots were fired.

    What I would speculate happened is that the cop got completely freaked out as the situation unfolded, a mini “fog of war,” and kept spraying shots until finally Brown’s head exploded. I don’t know if Wilson was a racist or not, but he clearly shouldn’t have been a cop and certainly shouldn’t continue to be one.

    As I’m writing this, I’ve got “Democracy Now” on the tube and Amy Goodman is playing what sounds like a genuine tape of the shooting, from a cell phone recording. There were six shots fired, in extremely rapid succession, then after a second or so, four more, also very rapid. I was astonished at the volley, which couldn’t have lasted more than 3-4 seconds.

    I’ve been with a core group fighting with one of the largest police departments in the Midwest for the last two years or so after a series of half a dozen cases where police killed kids and the mentally ill. I’ve attended dozens of protests that have not been publicized beyond the regional press and have met personally with the Chief of Police, an African-American and two of his highest lieutenants. We may have started the ball rolling to get all the city’s officers to wear cameras, though it’s met with resistance from that small number of cops who are most likely to be involved in such incidents.

    I am particularly pleased that Brown’s death has highlighted the militarization of urban police departments, with the army providing more combat equipment including MRAPs to fairly serene communities in the past few years than the U.S. has provided to the Kurdish Peshmurga to defend the region of northern Iraq against the ISIL slaughter.

    • lizard19

      because your link is the first time I’ve heard this claim. if Michael Brown beat this cop that severely, there should be marks on his hands, right? I wonder if any of the medical examinations of Brown’s body found anything?

      • Craig Moore

        All of the evidence is going to the grand jury. Don’t expect anything more until conclusion of those proceedings.

        • lizard19

          but JC makes a good point, if they had photos of Wilson’s beat up face, that would have made for a more effective pre-grand jury character assassination of Brown than the convenience store footage. and at the press conference with the medical examiners the family hired, I would think if there was evidence of a struggle that featured Brown punching Wilson, then they would have indicated there were marks on his knuckles.

    • JC

      “The Fox News source” about says it all. If indeed there was a beating this severe, would not have the PD released at minimum a photo to defuse the blowback?

      Folks will wrangle with the details of this case for years. But the tragedy has spread elsewhere as the world begins to see the U.S. for the militarized police state that it has become, and begins to fear it. Images of all of the riots and militarized police response to it have begun to replace the world’s “shining city on the hill” view of America with that of a dark overlord.

      Via a PCR guest column by Roman Baudzus , co-founder of German finance and economics blog “wirtschaftsfacts.”

      If we now come to the recent events in Ferguson, these incidents made us realize that the U.S. police state is not just on the rise, but is already in place! Scenes on TV and Internet videos of brutal militarized police equipped for battlefield combat applying extreme violence to protesters and journalists alike has raised the question in Europe whether America is a democracy or a police state. The continuing American massacre of people in the Middle East, together with Washington’s support for Israel’s massacre of Palestinians and now the massacre of Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine by the government that Washington installed in Kiev have changed the image of America from white hat to black hat. America no longer reassures us; America frightens us.

      • Here’s one not from Fox, it’s from Casenet, MO reflecting on the “gentle giant’s” rap sheet.

        According to Casenet, this unarmed teenager (Michael Brown) was already charged with:
        Description: Burglary – 1st Degree { Felony B RSMo: 569.160 }
        Date: 11/02/2013 Code: 1401000
        OCN: AJ006207 Arresting Agency: ST ANN PD
        Next Charge/Judgment
        Description: Armed Criminal Action { Felony Unclassified RSMo: 571.015 }
        Date: 11/02/2013 Code: 3101000
        OCN: AJ006207 Arresting Agency: ST ANN PD
        Next Charge/Judgment
        Description: Assault 1st Degree – Serious Physical Injury { Felony A RSMo: 565.050 }
        Date: 11/02/2013 Code: 1301100
        OCN: AJ006207 Arresting Agency: ST ANN PD
        Next Charge/Judgment
        Description: Armed Criminal Action { Felony Unclassified RSMo: 571.015 }
        Date: 11/02/2013 Code: 3101000
        OCN: AJ006207 Arresting Agency: ST. ANN PD

        • JC

          Note these are all from the same day. And they are charges, not convictions. And are the of the same “Michael Brown”? Do they justify his shooting death? And if you go to and put in any relevant info from what you posted above, you don’t get any returns.

          And contrary to your uncited charges, USA Today reported the following:

          An 18-year-old shot and killed near a Ferguson apartment complex Saturday afternoon had no criminal record, according to the St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney's office…

          St. Louis County Prosecutor's office confirmed that Brown had no prior misdemeanors or felonies against him.

          You should really be more careful in your daily readings, Swede. You’re parroting lots of misinformation here.

          • Key words JC. No ADULT arrest records.

            “Got News filed a lawsuit against St. Louis County court today to obtain the juvenile arrest records of Michael Brown after the court denied his request. Brown was killed in a controversial altercation with Officer Darren Wilson.

            Got News editor-in-chief Charles C. Johnson was told by two different law enforcement sources from St. Louis that Brown had a juvenile arrest record but that that report has been kept from the public…

            …To find out if those police officers are correct requires seeing Brown’s juvenile arrest record, which ought to be freely available given that he is dead and therefore has no right to privacy remaining. Press reports say that Brown has no “adult arrest record” but how could he have one? He was only eighteen for a few months.”

  3. evdebs

    This video was taken on August 19th of a police killing of a mentally ill young man. It just four miles from where Brown was shot. Police fired 9-12 times at close range:

  4. petetalbot

    I thought that Matt Yglesias’ take on this was excellent:

    • JC

      Sometimes an outside view is illuminating.

      From Spiegel:

      ‘We’re Like Animals To Them’: An American City’s Daily Racism

      It took the shooting of 18-year-old Brown on August 9, a young man who was unarmed, before anyone took an interest in the everyday reality of the city’s African-American population and their demoralizing harassment by the police. It also took this tragedy before people began to ask an important question: Why does a city whose population of 21,000 is two-thirds African American have a police force that is 95 percent white? And why, a half-century after Martin Luther King, Jr. launched the civil rights campaign and the end of segregation, are African-Americans still complaining today about persistent racism?

      The article goes on to provide an in-depth look at living as a black person in a community ruled by white folks, as experienced through the eyes of it’s residents.

      Must read!

    • James Maxie

      I get what Yglesias is saying in that column. But the part he glosses over with regard to his “lots of kids shoplift” argument is the part where the store clerk tries to stop Brown. He gets a pretty good shove from Brown and a menacing indication that he’d better back down or something worse is headed his way. None of that on its face justifies the officer shooting an unarmed person six times of course. But it reinforces the old adage that in most sensational conflicts, the answer and the truth lie somewhere in the middle of each party’s argument. Brown was not a “gentle giant” or a “big teddy bear”. In the hours before he was shot he had managed to make someone fear for their physical safety.

      • Exactly what I was going to replay to Mark T. with.

        Goes to his frame of mind minutes before the shooting.

        • Like I said, only the evidence of the shooting itself, which was an extrajudicial execution, matters, and the only justification is self-defense. State of mind and all of that is way beyond our pay level. The situation needs an impartial investigation by independent authorities. Internal affairs, police investigating themselves, won’t get it done.

      • JC

        Don’t forget the video that shows Brown paying for the cigars. Maybe he didn’t pay enough. Who knows.

      • James Maxie

        If there were credible video showing Brown trying to pay for his items an anti-TP web site would hardly be alone trying to advance that theory. Think about it.

        There are legitimate concerns as to the officer’s decision to shoot an unarmed person six times. I have a real problem with that. But solutions are realized only when a full account of facts are acknowledged. Mr. Brown committed a strong-armed robbery not long before he was shot. No one worth taking seriously argues against that. Doing so only makes you look foolish.

        • I encountered this years ago, long before militarization of police, that part of their training in a situation like that is to empty their clips. They had a good reason for it, which eludes me. Not being sarcastic.

        • James Maxie

          Fair enough MT. Then can we not have a discussion about whether or not emptying your clip is a rationale response? Even if the suspect is big and charging you? I personally think that it’s insane to continue firing upon an unarmed person regardless of what they did if one or two shots knocks them down.

        • As I said, I don’t remember the reason given. It had to do with a man that police shot in Billings while I lived there. He too emptied his gun into the suspect, as he was trained to do.

          Yes, seems insane to me. But this particular incident in Ferguson, the police officer was probably following protocol in emptying his gun.

          • lizard19

            there are other trainings available to law enforcement, like crisis intervention and verbal judo. it takes leadership to prioritize non-lethal forms of deescalation training, and a realization that military equipment is only necessary if the police are at war with American citizens. that’s not the case everywhere, yet.

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