My favorite song off Watch The Throne is Murder to Excellence. It’s truly a powerful song. I would say that it’s the most profound rap song that I’ve heard within the last 10 years. The subject of the song, black-on-black homicide, has been tackled extensively in Hip-Hop music, but Jay-Z and Kanye shines a much brighter light on the issue because of their high profiles and the depth of the song’s lyrical content. Another thing that makes the song unique is that Jay and Kanye “report” the grim state of Black America in the first half of the song and then celebrate the great achievement and excellence in Black America in the second half. I’m going to do the same in this 2-part blog post.
I want to highlight some of the lyrics from Murder to Excellence but I want to use the subject of the song as a catalyst to make an argument on what I think needs to happen to bring about more peace in the streets.
The Paper Read Murder
Black-on-black homicide is an epidemic that I personally think doesn’t get enough real substantive coverage and discussion in America. That’s why a song like Murder to Excellence is so important because just maybe it can spark more debate.
It’s time for us to stop and redefine black power
41 soul murdered in 50 hours.
The homicide rate among young black males is the highest than of any other group in America. All you have to do is turn on the TV and watch your local news. All local media in your area plays a vital role because it provides a gateway to information and gives a variety of answers to the question “What’s going on?” in regards to your community. Television is still the most powerful form of media because it’s visual and it has the greatest reach.
The younger generation prefers consuming information on the Internet through their computers and mobile devices. That’s cool- I do too. We don’t read print newspapers. We don’t listen to the radio for information; we listen for entertainment. But I would urge the up-and-coming generation to hold back on abandoning television altogether….
The local television broadcast media is the most powerful and at the same time the most underutilized resource in fighting black-on-black homicide.
It’s not the police, politicians, community activists, educators, business leaders, rappers, religious leaders, parents, and certainly not the black youth themselves who have the most power.
There is not a greater resource available to residents in your city or town to effectively expose and deeply explore the epidemic of black-on-black homicide than the local broadcast media.
It’s a war going on outside we ain’t safe from
I feel the pain in my city wherever I go
314 soldiers died in Iraq
509 died in Chicago
Here’s a homework assignment: Watch your local news every day for the next 7 days. It really doesn’t matter where you live in this country because the local news is all the same…
The paper read “murder…black-on-black murder”
The paper read “murder…black-on-black murder” again
Local news reports a black-on-black homicide as if it’s “just another” black man (or teen) killed by “just another” black man (or teen). Straight, no chaser. Black-on-black homicide happens so often in locales throughout the country, that the lives of both the victim and suspect become “just another” number. Black-on-black homicide is reduced to a statistic. Black life is devalued in the streets and on the news.
But have you noticed what happens when a white resident in your area is killed by violence?
When a white person is killed in your city depth is added to the local news’ reporting. The reporters and anchors show a little emotion, don’t they? Viewers get real quotes from the victim’s family members right down to random neighbors or just people passing by in the community where the victim lived. You might hear people make a statement like this:
“This kind of thing never happens in this neighborhood!”
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that.
The murder of a white resident in your area is very likely to garner days or even weeks of coverage in your local news. A black homicide is likely to receive maybe 2-3 minutes.
Summary of the typical media coverage of black homicide in your local area: “He was young. He was black. He lived in the hood. He got shot. He died…on to the next story.”
Summary of the typical media coverage of white homicide in your local area: “He was young. He was smart, talented, funny, friendly and just about any other adjective that positively describes an individual. He lived in the “nice” suburbs and raised in a “good family”. He was on his way to college. He “tragically” lost his life….the entire community is mourning his passing.”
See the difference? Think I’m wrong? Watch your local news and reach out to me in a week (though it might take much longer than that before a white person is murdered in your area).
The local news will make a very deliberate effort to put a face to the white homicide. It’s not “just another” statistic. In the hands of your local media it’s a real-life story that needs to be told.
If the suspect or perpetrator of a homicide in your local area is black, the details of his life presented to you by the media is pretty much as cut-and-dry as the victim’s…
“He was young. He was black. He lived in the hood. He was arrested. He got 100 years in prison….on to the next story.”
Not so when the suspect or perpetrator is white.
Just as in the case of the white victim, the life of the white suspect or perpetrator is reported with depth. Yeah, he committed a terrible act, but his life still has value. Viewers learn about his family and background. Quotes are sought after from family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors who are “shocked” that he could do such a horrible thing.
The local news coverage of a white homicide suspect or perpetrator can be summed up like this: “He’s not “just another suspect”, he’s one of “our kids” in “our community”. Yes, he did or is suspected of committing a horrible crime, but there’s has to be an explanation for it, right?
Black murderers often get demonized while white murderers often get psychoanalyzed.
And they say by 21 I was supposed to die
So I’m out here celebrating my post-demise
If you put crabs in a barrel to insure your survival
You’re gon’ end up pulling down n*ggas that look just like you
Some white homicides get national or even international coverage, but remember, the coverage of these same real life stories began at the local level where they occurred.
True Crime Sells
I’m a fan of true crime stories. I don’t read true crime novels but I like watching programs like CBS’s 48 Hours Mystery or NBC’s Dateline. But I go deeper than that. I watch true crimes programs on the ID Channel and TruTV. My wife teases me about my “obsession” with these types of shows.
Programs like 48 Hours Mystery uses investigative reporting to document true crime stories. Most of the stories are about homicides and the vast majority of them involve white victims (often female) and white murderers (often males). I like these shows because as I stated, I’m into the true crime stuff. But I often get irritated with the fact that true crime stories involving blacks are rarely covered on these programs.
The news reporting that you receive in your local media will give you the basic details- the who, what, where, when, why and how of a homicide. Yes, as I have already talked about, the local news will give you more depth when it comes to white homicide, but there’s only some much background and analysis that you’ll get from the local news about anything that happens in your area.
Investigative reporting is much more thorough. This kind of reporting will dig deep into the background of a homicide and basically tell the life stories of those involved in the crime. The goal of these programs is to tell a compelling story that connects with viewers. After you’ve seen a 48 Hours Mystery story, for example, you feel like you actually know the victim and his or her family and friends. You even feel like you know the murderer and his family.
These programs are so good at telling the story that viewers develop an emotional connection with its cast of characters. You may have not known anything about the people involved in the story before you watched it, but all of a sudden you’re saying…
“That guy could be my son, brother, friend, co-worker or neighbor.”
“That young woman could be my daughter, sister, friend, co-worker or neighbor.”
These programs utilize master investigating reporting and storytelling.
Black Mothers Need to Be Seen and Heard
As I stated earlier, I watch a lot of true crime programs and the element of each story that always seems to make the greatest connection with viewers is the pain felt by the mothers who lost their sons or daughters to violence. I watch these programs and see mothers (most of them being white) speak with so much pride and pain about their murdered son or daughter and it makes me think about all of the black (and brown) mothers all over this country who are losing sons (many of them just in their teens) every single night to violence.
Why aren’t we hearing more from these mothers? They have lost sons, too, many more of them in fact at an alarming rate. These mothers are losing beautiful daughters too. These mothers won’t be able to see their sons or daughters graduate from college, get married and raise families. These mothers won’t have grandchildren or have to watch heartbroken as their grandchildren grow up without their mother or father.
Just imagine how the media coverage would be if white mothers were burying their sons at an alarming rate due to violence on the streets of America?
America mourns-sometimes for years-with white mothers when they tragically lose their sons and daughters to violence. Yet, “just another” black mother gets 2-3 minutes coverage of her baby in the local news…and then it’s on to the next story.
The media knows it can do better than that.
See, when you “humanize homicide”, the victims and murderers are no longer statistics; they’re real people and so are their families. In the midst of tragedy, complete strangers feel genuine empathy with others who are suffering due to a homicide in their city or town or even if in locations thousands of miles away in another part of the country.
The Great Disconnect
And I’m from the murder capital where they murder for capital
Heard about at least three killings this afternoon
Looking at the news like, “Damn! I was just with him after school”
No shop class but half the school got a tool
And “I could die any day”-type attitude
I think this country is not as much divided as it is disconnected. The disconnect is as much about class as it is about race. Most black (and brown) homicide happens in what we call “urban” areas, which quite honestly simply means: communities where poor black and brown people live. If you don’t live in one of these areas, regardless of race, it’s fairly easy for you to become disconnected from the pathology of violence happening damn near every night in these communities.
The disconnect you feel is normal and understandable considering your day-to-day routine versus what’s going on day and night in the ‘hood.
The disconnect you feel is widespread throughout this great country of ours, and basically holding us back from being even greater.
As long as a significant percentage of “our people” (not my people, or his people, not Jay-Z’s people or Kanye’s people- OUR people) are stuck in a permanent underclass and written off to be murdered in the streets or incarcerated for decades at a time or for life, this country, OUR country will NEVER come close to being as great as we can and should be.
Making the Connection
Everyone from the President to the community leader play a role in getting Americans connected to each other, regardless of race, class, age, sexual orientation or social status. But I believe that the broadcast media, starting at the local level, MUST use its all-too powerful resources to connect us to each other.
Any person, group or entity that has united us or divided us has shrewdly and successfully used the media to do so.
The media needs to be used to connect people with the stories of other people who often live just minutes away.
The homicides may not be happening in your neighborhood but it is happening in your community.
The Challenge (Part 1)
Power to the people
When you see me, see you
I’m not a media expert. I don’t have the inside information on what it takes to produce news or documentaries. I’m not a reporter or a producer in broadcast news media. I have never worked in the media biz. I just know what I see and what I don’t see.
I’ve heard people in the media say that when it comes to local or national stories, they’re simply giving the public what it wants to see. The position seems to be: If a young white woman from the suburbs is tragically murdered, it receives more coverage in terms of frequency and depth because of “public interest” (in other words, white people just can’t get enough of the story).
You’re not really buying what the media is trying to sell you, are you?
I strongly suspect that the media drives our interests and not the other way around.
But let me show you how the power of the media can be used to make real impact:
I remember watching a special on Dateline, America Now: “Faces Against Violence”, about the teen homicide epidemic in Chicago. Reported by Lester Holt, the program was excellent. The special put human faces to the violence in the streets of Chicago where kids are killing kids. They’re not statistics, they’re kids who have mothers, fathers, grandmothers, brothers and sisters who love them.
But not only that-those kids could be your sons, right?
After the special aired, Dateline “received a lot of inquiries about how to get in touch with the Chicago organizations”. Why? Because Americans from all over the country wanted to donate money or other resources to these organizations to help the cause to stop the violence in Chi town’s inner city streets.
Dateline used its expertise and resources to produce a documentary that exposed and deeply explored a deadly epidemic in one of America’s biggest and greatest cities. The special sparked debate and action.
The violence in the streets is not just a law enforcement issue. It’s not just a political issue. It goes far deeper than parents being responsible for their children. This country is full of people with ideas, expertise, resources and networks. The solutions to our problems, such as “urban violence” will come from our collective thoughts and actions. We can’t have a “that’s happening in their neighborhood, not mine” type of attitude. Documentaries like the report on Dateline can’t solve the problem but they can tie us all together so that we can contribute to the solutions as one big community.
America has the greatest heart, mind and assets but suffers badly from a great disconnect.
The media may highlight the disconnect but doesn’t actively do its part to tie us all together. The reality is most of us are not activists, we’re residents in cities and towns. Our day-to-day experiences outside our homes are limited to work, school, dining, shopping and entertainment. The average person doesn’t “visit” neighborhoods regardless of the where it is unless they know someone who lives there. This is how disconnect happens.
People who live in affluent areas in Chicago that watched that Dateline special were just as disconnected with the inner city violence happening there as I am sitting on the couch in my apartment in Northern Virginia. But ultimately, because they’re in Chicago they share the same sense of pride in the city and have the greater ability to make a greater impact on Chicago’s inner city youth than I do.
It’s not to say that residents of Chicago who don’t live or go anywhere near the inner city weren’t already aware of the violence. But while the local news dryly reported the violence, the Dateline special gave it a powerful narrative through compelling stories of real people and places. The special made the connection.
I want to issue a challenge to local media organizations and their suppliers of content:
Produce features, documentaries and special reports that tell compelling stories about the people caught up in the deadly cycle of violence in your area’s most troubled communities. Connect to the broader community the “random” names and faces of black-on-black homicide. You can’t tell everyone’s story but the ones you do tell can make an impact on how all of the tragedies in your area are viewed by the public.
I truly believe that if those who “run the show” in local media organizations make a commitment to investigate and report black-on-black homicides with as much depth as is given to the less occurrences of white homicides, this country, from the top-down will have a greater connect, which will give us the will to fight what I think is our nation’s greatest tragedy.
Coming soon: “Murder to Excellence (Part 2: Black Excellence)”
How and why the media needs to tell the true story of success in Black America