Dayton Chief of Police Richard Biel and Jasiri X at the Dear Dr. Hip-Hop: Speak, Be Heard, Be Considered event in Dayton, Ohio. Photo by  Andrew-Bryce Hudson (www.andrew-bryce.net

 

This weekend, I had an opportunity to speak and perform in Dayton, OH, with the legendary MC Lyte at an event called, “Dear Dr. Hip-Hop: Speak, Be Heard, Be Considered.” A few days before arriving, I got a call from one of the organizers telling me that the Dayton Police Department had a “problem” with some of my lyrics and demanded to know what songs I was going to perform before they would secure the venue.

 

Being that this wasn’t the first time a group tried to censor me, I immediately got on the phone with my lawyer who advised me on what action I needed to take.  I sent this email as my response

 

Here are the links to my music and videos. I reserve the right to perform any one of these songs. There is not one lyric in any of these songs that advocates or calls for any kind of violence, especially towards law enforcement. Nor do I advocate or condone violence in our community, violence against women, or drug abuse like many rap artists. I’m a Hip-Hop artist and community activist that has dedicated my life to mentoring young men in our community to be peaceful and law abiding citizens. I have never had one incident of violence at any of the many shows, panels, or lectures I’ve done all over the world. It is the responsibility of the Dayton Police Department to provide a safe environment for the citizens they are obligated to serve and protect. I will consider any form of censorship an infringement on my constitutional right to free speech, and will forward any further communication on this issue to my lawyer. 
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Here I am, an artist that uses Hip-Hop to uplift my community, and I’m the one they have a problem with? I’m sure they are upset at the fact that I use my music to speak about issues of injustice like the police killing of Oscar Grant, the brutal beating of Jordan Miles, the unconstitutional racial profiling policy called Stop and Frisk, and the fact that a Black person is killed every 36 hours by police, security guards, or people posing as neighborhood watch like George Zimmerman.  Instead of protecting my rights to speak truth to the people of Dayton, they would rather silence me, as if that will make the problem go away.
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Coincidentally, my set was cut short before I had a opportunity to perform any of the above songs. The next day at the community forum, an empty chair was pulled next to me and a last minute panelist was added, the Dayton Chief of Police Richard Biel. The moderator, Hip-Hop author Bakari Kitwana, asked me why I thought police/community relationships were so fractured. In response, I shared this example I experienced as a member of One Hood.
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As One Hood began to become known and respected in Pittsburgh as community activist and advocates the Pittsburgh Police Department asked us to come to a meeting. When we arrived, the police officers requested our help in encouraging our community to cooperate more with the police. We said we’d like the police to encourage their officers to cooperate with our community when we are brutalized by crooked cops. The police told us flat out that they would not do that, so in turn we said we couldn’t help them, and the meeting was over. We refused to have a relationship with the police if it was not based on freedom, justice, and equality.
 The police are quick to say we shouldn’t judge them by a “few bad apples”, but then push policies like Stop and Frisk that paints our entire community as criminals because of a few bad apples. One police sergeant just thought it was OK to bring targets that looked like Trayvon Martin to a gun range. Dayton’s Police Department has it’s own share of controversy. In 2011, police officers claimed a man named Kylen English, who was handcuffed in the back of a police car, used his head to break the window, climb out of the police car then jump over a bridge to his death. English’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city.

 

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What we need for a real relationship is not silencing voices that are critical of police policies that negatively effect our community. Nor do we need another forum where police listen then get up from the table and do the same things the community complains about. We need a equal partnership. We need police to admit their mistakes, not make up unbelievable stories to justify their wrong doing. We need bad cops fired and replaced, not protected and promoted.

 

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In Dayton I met a wonderful community of committed educators, entrepreneurs,  artists, and activists working daily to stop the violence and empower the youth. I hope the Dayton Police Department decides to be part of that community, instead of an occupying force.

 

 

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