Glamorizing Police Murders Takes Its Toll


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.

0713blogextraApparently, 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.

Your thoughts?

Who wrote this?

Bob Waliszewski is the director of the Plugged In department. His syndicated "Plugged In Movie Review" feature is heard by approximately 9 million people each week on more than 1,500 radio stations and other outlets and has been nominated for a National Religious Broadcaster's award. Waliszewski is the author of the book Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. You can follow him on Twitter @PluggedInBob.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Nick Martinez More than 1 year ago
I'm not quite sure I agree with the perspective on Gangsta rap being the influence for the recent violence against law enforcement. Rappers generally speak out on relevant issues happening in their realm of living and experience. Because we are professional people living in nice neighborhoods and attending church on Sundays and ministry during the week (reading blogs like this one), we have to visually and mentally get into the mindset of those who live in the hood, who's main concern is probably making it home alive. And I for one cannot even fathom that type of frightening existence.  When one cannot trust those in their own neighborhood let alone law enforcement, where does a nation of the forgotten turn to, or even reach out to? When justice fails them time and time again, where is the hope? Where are we, as a believing community, failing to offer our financial resources and more importantly, our physical and compassionate selves to help those who have struggled for decades? The communities recently in the news are still in the same dead end environments, overcome by poverty and  silenced by governing authorities. Music is an expression of our souls, as evidenced by the slave days "spirituals", the 60's folk music that cried out for change, and yes the psychedelic metal music that raged against a corrupt system. Our country is being divided by ideology, hatred and a system that is deceiving us. I'm afraid that the words of Jesus are all to real in the United States at this present time, "A house divided against itself, will not stand."
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
OK, finally, someone has pointed out the obvious. Thank you!
bobed More than 1 year ago
Like it or not, we do have a problem. However, you have to look back to the original root cause. WHY are police murders being glamorized? Is it because originally everyone got tired of glamorizing dog groomer murders? NO, it most certainly is not. Ask yourself... why police? I should think the answer isn't hard to find. 
Dan Haynes More than 1 year ago
Hmmm...I must have missed the blog post calling for respecting authority and criminalizing speech relating to the killing of LEOs when the Bundy "militia" were up to their shenanigans earlier this year. That in no way excuses the actions of the Dallas shooter, but it certainly makes me wonder about the editorial climate at a "ministry" like FotF.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Smith.

Unless I missed the report, I don't remember the Bundys killing any cops, or listening to any gangsta rap -- both of which were the actual focus of this blog post -- though I doubt that sort of topical propriety concerns you, since frankly I think you're just causing trouble.
bobed More than 1 year ago
No, no one was killed in that incident, but people could easily have been killed, including cops, and Cliven Bundy and his ilk were well prepared to kill anyone they needed to. Cliven Bundy's very motivation was that he does not recognize the authority of police over the state of Nevada. Though I doubt that kind of specific motivation concerns you, since frankly I think you're not going to listen to any kind of comparison that challenges your worldview. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Smith.

Absurd! If that were true, I wouldn't be here in the first place.
Mr. Haynes' comment was unfair and unreasonable, as I pointed out.

I am perfectly willing to have rational discussion with anyone. You should know, bobed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted ny Smith.

Back in the early days of the Hays Code, it was generally forbidden to present authority figures in a poor light.

By contrast, the censors had no problem permitting the laughable stereotyping of minorities on film (think Gone with the Wind, or just about every cowboy/Indian film ever made).

Now, it seems the pendulum has shifted, our culture growing far more sensitive about its portrayals of minorities, while its view of police, entirely fair or not, continues to dim.

It's terrible, but if you ask me the American culture is always looking for groups of people to vilify and debase. I believe 'gangsta rap' is popular because it reflects the culture.

Put another way, it is not against the law to stereotype blacks or Indians in a film. But it won't succeed, financially or critically, because the understanding of our culture has rightfully shifted on this point.

By contrast, 'gangsta eap' succeeds because it ties into a very real cultural moment -- a root, if you will, which continues to send up poisonous fruit. We can regulate; we can keep water from the roots; we can stamp out fruit where we find it, but in truth we are kidding ourselves.

It is the root itself which must be dealt with.
Joel Baldwin More than 1 year ago
Gangsta rap portrays killing policemen and other people in a "we'll be free if we do this" sort of light. While it's one part of the problem, it's obviously not the sole cause. Not that it helps matters, of course, but the thing is that authority figures should be looked up to. While racist portrayals of people were a part of a deeply rooted problem, and while people are more sensitive to such portrayals in this day and age, that doesn't excuse murder in any way, shape, or form. Nor should murder be portrayed as a solution to problems. Music can influence people, especially if they listen to it over and over--it's a conditioning process, and the effect music can have on people shouldn't be understated. People shouldn't be portraying the murder of anyone in a positive light. There is a limit to Free Speech, and people tend not to be aware of that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Smith.

By all means, come down on gangsta rap if it makes you feel better. But gangta rap, however problematic, is not, I would submit, the problem; it is a symptom of a greater problem. 

Gangsta rap grows out of a particular, troubled culture -- out of deeper issues, deeper divides, which must be dealt with if we are serioys about real, lasting solutions.

In other words: if you have a headache, take an Aspirin. But if a tumor is what's causing your headache, that Aspirin won't help much in the long run.
Joel Baldwin More than 1 year ago
I wasn't saying that Gangsta Rap was the sole cause of problems, but music can have a strong influence as far as what it teaches people. Heavy Metal promotes satanism and rebellion (as Gangsta Rap promotes rebellion), and "harmless" Pop songs tend to promote adultery, fornication, etc. Gangsta Rap is but one symptom of a serious problem, and secular music in general is not helping the problems that people tend to have, and can make them far worse. Repetition and how often songs/albums are played and replayed affects the mind. But the source of all this is rebellion, not wanting to go by moral standards, and worse problems. Drugs (including alcohol) don't help the problem either (and country music does as much drug use as rap these days, and even before gangsta rap came on the scene, that was the case). Rock N' Roll is rooted in rebellion (Alleister Crowley, a known satanist, child raper, and father of the New Age movement, is considered the patron saint of Rock N' Roll). But the music isn't the whole problem, not by a long shot. People don't like to be disciplined, they want to "Do as (They) Wilt" instead of worshiping God and doing what He wilt. Prayer can be very helpful to people, even if they aren't aware they're being prayed for. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Smith.

Ah -- but why do people rebel? Some, because they find authority figures to be onerous; others, because the authority figures ARE onerous. America has a long history of racially onerous policies.

Now I am in no way excusing gangsta rap, or, heaven forbid, violence against police. What I am saying is that if America's race relations were better, maybe gangsta rap wouldn't be so popular.

P.S.: Is it the lyrics of metal music, or the genre itself, that you find rebellious? I often listen to christian metal myself (e.g. Red, Switchfoot, etc.), and I don't recall hearing anything rebellious in their music.
Joel Baldwin More than 1 year ago
The music and lyrics go hand in hand in secular music, and Christian Metal derives from a secular form of music. I used to listen to Christian metal, but that made me want the evil form of metal, so I quit listening to it. One thing you should watch out for: the media. While America had a past of discrimination against and bad treatment of people of a darker skin shade (while I'm not saying it's 100% gone away), things have actually gotten a lot better as far as "race" (only one race to me: the human race) relations and equal treatment. If someone's committing a crime, they're far more likely to dislike the police and other law enforcement officials than if they're not doing anything illegal. This is the case with people of all skin shades. That doesn't mean abuse and bad treatment have completely gone away, or that such things never happen at all, but it's nothing like it once was. Upbringing also affects behavior, and other things factor in as well, of course. As for the music I listen to, I like hymns primarily, and Chris Tomlin. (I really dislike most contemporary artists, but there are a few individual songs I like). I like praise music, really. I have nothing against anyone who listens to the Christian "genres" of music, but I don't listen to them. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great article and insight. I just wanted to ask a question about rap music in general. As a fan of Christian rappers NF, Andy Mineo, and KB, I get confused when people talk about different 'kinds' of rap. If rap could potentially be a cause of this violence, does that mean all forms of rap should be abandoned? Rap music has helped me deal with depression in the past, but sometimes I worry that I could be sucked into a dangerous path by listening too it. For this reason I do not listen to 'secular' rappers (e.g., Drake, Enimem, etc.), not even the clean versions, as I feel that listening to them for entertainment purposes would feed a part of me that is not of Christ. Thanks if your reading this and God bless, I just wanted to see if anyone had an answer. 
Caleb Lancaster More than 1 year ago
I'm a fan of NF, Lecrae, Andy Mineo, etc, too. They have put into words a lot of the feelings I had. I don't think rap in general is bad. I think the words are mostly the problem. However, some rap music sounds bad. You can decide for yourself if the music feels wrong. Some of NF's stuff is so intense, I can't listen to it for long. However, for the majority, I think it's the words and meaning behind the words that can cause the most damage. They're what you think about and meditate on the most. It's important to fill our minds with good things.
CousinJustice15652 . More than 1 year ago
I don’t profess to be an expert, but as someone who used to struggle intensely with doubts and confusion about what kind of music was okay to listen to, I thought I’d offer my perspective. 

In a nutshell, I’ve found that a good guide for whether or not you should listen to a song, once it meets the more obvious criteria (such as not containing profanity or explicit lyrics/themes), is to ‘listen’ to how it makes you feel, and what it makes you think about. Some songs can lift your spirit; others pull it down, turning your emotions towards depressed, angry, or sad states of mind.

Which is not at all to say that any song that isn’t “sunshine and rainbows” is bad and should be avoided; I myself find joy in certain kinds of sad-yet-beautiful music (e.g. movie soundtracks). And listening to an ‘angry’ song can be cathartic, if you’re already dealing with that emotion. But it’s often better to use music to counter your negative moods, not to feed them. 

Observe what your preferred music does to you when you listen from a neutral mental/emotional state. Does it lift you up, or drag you down? Do you feel better afterwards, or worse? And finally, does your conscience nag at you? Even if there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with a song, it might be good to give it up if your doubts cause conflict in your mind.
bobed More than 1 year ago
Why should all rap be abandoned? Should all pop music or contemporary music be abandoned because of a few bad seeds? Seems silly to me. If music has good content, to me, the style matters not - unless it's heavy metal, which is a screeching assault on the ears that I don't understand how anyone could stand to listen to.
Kal El More than 1 year ago
That's purely a preference issue. Many Christian metal artists have ministered heavily to me and many others I know, and most metal (there are exceptions in every genre) is actually very musically complex. Complex both instrumentally and in that the vocal technique to produce a quality scream or growl is not so simple as the uninitiated may assume; these singers don't just shout like you might if you were having a super angry conversation or something, that would destroy their voices. There's a reason these singers can switch from intense screams to smooth-voiced singing with no snags or damages. There are techniques to screamo, just as there are to classic singing, rock singing, etc.. I know this not just because I love the genre, but because I've been an aspiring guitarist for years and took two years of voice lessons from a classically trained teacher who, thankfully, was open minded enough to learn about and teach me metal vocal techniques. She performs opera, and openly acknowledged the validity and complexity of metal music, both instrumentally and vocally. She's also the music director on her church choir, by the way.

I'm certainly not saying you have to be a metal head: we all have genres we like more or less than others and that's ok. It would be unfair to criticize you just for having a style preference, as it would anyone. Diverse tastes can make life more interesting if we all respect that in each other.
All I'm saying is that metal is really valid as a musical art form, and that usually when people say things like 'that's not music', 'there's no quality in it', or 'it's just noise', they say those things because they are ignorant of the actual musical technique involved, and make the mistake of assuming that if they don't like the sound it must indicate a lack of quality or technique in the music itself.
Other times people say those things just because they are being overly pushy with their own opinions, but generally I find it's ignorance that prompts those sorts of inaccurate statements more than anything else.
Now, there are times a person will recognize the musical merit, but the style just doesn't work for them personally. That's totally fine. That happens to me now and then, even though I enjoy almost all kinds of music on one level or another.

Now, of course I am not addressing lyrical content, because, as with literally any musical genre, it is NOT the SOUND that is evil, but the SPIRIT. This holds true for metal, hip hop, rock, blues, you name it. A genre is just a sound style, and can't be inherently good or evil, just as a car is just a mode of transport and can be used for good or bad purposes.

Lastly, we are made in the image and likeness of a creative, multifaceted, passionate God. Music is art, and art is (on some level) inherently spiritual. That's why literally everyone I know of is moved by at least one art form or subcategory therein. Someone may be moved to tears by a painting, while for another it's a song (yes, including hip hop/rap and metal), and others still might be moved most by a well made piece of cinema. Sometimes people don't even know WHY something moves them so powerfully, just that it does and it feels right. A non-Christian may be moved deeply by a song or drawing or movie, but not know what to call that feeling or connection: they just know they feel it and it speaks to some deep need inside of them.
Art, at its best, can be very transcendent and draw us closer to God. And when we engage IN art, we mirror the God whose image we bear in that we are exercising creativity and passion just as He did and does.
It's what we DO with these gifts that makes the difference.

And then there's personal conviction, where God gives one person peace on something, but the other feels led not to partake. But that's a conversation for another day, as I've gone on long enough.
JeffD503 More than 1 year ago

I'm not a fan of rap music myself, but I think rap is just a style of music. I mean, the most rap I ever listened to was the likes of parody songs, like Weird Al's White & Nerdy.

What I'm getting at is, I think that the music style of rap isn't the problem. I think that if they don't glamorize what is immoral, then you shouldn't need to abandon all of it. I mean I think Christian rappers would be all right. That's not to say that I like Christian rap, just because I'm not a fan of rap music. But that's just my personal taste, and far be it from me to say that my personal taste is the 11th commandment.

So, like most have said, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.