When terrible wildfires rage out of control like we’ve seen lately in New Mexico, California and my home state of Colorado, the first thing I want to know is the cause. Lightning? Arson? Campfire left unattended? I feel the same way regarding all tragedies. So, for instance, when I heard that Voice singer Christina Grimmie, had been shot and killed, I began listening for the why (a deranged stalker, by the way). I’m hardly alone in wanting to know the causalities behind our world’s disasters. After tragedy strikes, reporters quickly take to the airwaves to offer (or guess) a motive.
As we all now know, five Dallas police officers were murdered by 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson last week. At a press conference the day after the shooting, Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown went straight to heart of motivation when he explained, “He said he was upset about the recent police shootings. The suspect said he was upset at white people. The suspect stated he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers.”
A lot of people interested in the why were satisfied with Officer Brown’s explanation. And I count myself among that group … to a point. But I also find myself asking the why behind the why.
Yes, I get it. Micah Johnson was upset that white police officers were involved in the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile near St. Paul, Minn. But countless other people were also upset. These and other deaths inspired scads of peaceful protests and became a catalyst for the nation to re-examine some long-festering racial issues. But few of these protesters jumped to the dark place that Johnson did. What was going on in Johnson’s head that had him believing that the deaths of innocent police officers would somehow make the situation better?
Perhaps the deaths that occurred in Minnesota and Louisiana were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. But what other straws were on that camel?
I’m going to suggest that the messaging of gangsta rappers the last quarter of a century has been a heavy weight on that desert beast.
Apparently, Johnson was a fan of gangsta rap. The Daily Mail and other publications have published a photo (shown here) of Johnson (on the right) shaking hands with Public Enemy’s Professor Griff (born Richard Griffin). Not surprisingly, Griff has distanced himself from Johnson (“I do not know the shooter”). Whether they were friends is beside the point. The point is that even though we don’t yet know a lot about Johnson, what little we do know shows he’s a fan of troublesome rap.
For more than two decades, gangsta rap has glorified violence against law enforcement—a span of time that almost encompasses Johnson’s entire life. Ice-T released “Cop Killer” back in 1992, when Johnson was 2. Ganksta N-I-P rapped in the early 1990s about killing a female police officer by “stick[ing] my gun inside your [slang for vagina] … I’ve been known for takin’ a cop’s life.” I recall reviewing a Snoop Dogg album back in 1994 in which the rapper boasted about a “187 [California penal code for murder] on a [expletive] cop.” Since those early days, dozens and dozens of other rappers have chimed in with similar anti-police, anti-authority sentiments with pro-murder solutions. I suggest that two-and-a-half decades of “preaching” that it’s OK to kill cops has added several hay bales on that camel’s skyward side.
Last week, I read two posts on Facebook where individuals were hailing Johnson as a “hero.” These are likely people who’d never go as far as he did (thankfully). But they share his ideology. They believe that police are the bad guys, so evil they deserve to be gunned down. Also, a New York Daily News story quotes Nicole Johnson—Micah’s sister—spewing anti-police thoughts on her Facebook account. How did the Johnsons and those who call Micah a hero get so desensitized?
Furthermore, even though we tend to sweep it under the rug, cop-killing ideology has conclusively been linked to police killings. How do we know that? Because some of the killers have confessed. I’ll cite just one example here—one of earlier ones:
On Sept. 7, 1994, Milwaukee police officer William Robertson was gunned down by two 17-year-old gang members, one using a high powered rifle with a scope, the other serving as a lookout. Following an intense homicide investigation, detectives discovered the two gang members had not targeted Officer Robertson specifically. They had simply wanted to kill a police officer—any officer—for amusement. Why? One of the youths said that he was inspired by the lyrics from now-deceased rap artist Tupac Shakur.
For those of us who are appalled by such horrific behaviors (which is most of us), it is difficult, if not impossible, for us to imagine how someone could go from music listener to murderer. But I can’t forget an email I received that helped me understand the thought process. A former rap fan wrote to say that violent lyrics brought him to a state in which he “felt like making someone a victim.” Kinda scary.
I’m all for the First Amendment. I believe in free speech. But in spite of our First Amendment rights, there are nine types of speech that are still illegal. For instance, in times of war, it is against the law to divulge the location of our troops. It’s also illegal to shout “Hijack!” on an airplane. I think we should consider a tenth type of illegal speech: Glamorizing illegal activities such as the murder of police.
I’m just conjecturing here, but I believe five brave police officers (and officer Robertson and Micah Johnson) might all still be alive if we just culturally operated more out of common sense and decency. Promoting ideas such as respecting authority would have the extra added benefit of not adding any straw to the camel. Plus, most likely it would help remove some dry grass from the dromedary along the way.