3. Leisure, Style, and Terror in the G-Funk Era
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3 Leisure, Style, and Terror in the G-­ Funk Era I’m just, you know, relatin’ to my ­ people the best way I know; bringing them what they know and what they see out there in the streets, but I’m bringing it to them in a musical way, a way of partying rather than, you know what I’m sayin’, through violence. Now they can party their way through their problems. —Snoop Doggy Dogg This morning. We got reports from down here that ­ people were doing “stupid sensual things,” were in a state of “uncontrollable frenzy,” were wriggling like fish, doing something called the “Eagle Rock” and the “Sassy Bump”; were cutting a mean “Mooche,” and “lusting after relevance.” —Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo Here I am, about [to] embark on a journey with Governor Bill Clinton and his running mate, Senator Al Gore—the Democratic “dream team,” America’s best hope to finally put the Gipper (former President Ronald Reagan) and his lapdog (current President George Bush) to bed. Once and for all. But Clinton is also the man who recently fried a mentally-­ impaired convicted murderer in the electric chair, a method of punishment disproportionately used against ­ people of color. He is also the coward who attacked Sister Souljah to show white America that he knows how to keep the darkies in check. —James Bernard, The Source Do the Right Thing, director Spike Lee’s cinematic meditation on the racial politics of the late 1980s, ended with prophecy. Following the death of the film’s Public Enemy–playing, silent black militant Radio Raheem at the hands of New York City police officers, a black Brooklyn crowd explodes in anger. Mookie throws a trash can through Sal’s pizzeria window and, as the situation disinte­ grates, the Italian Ameri­can patriarch’s local business goes up in flames. The crowd screams “Burn it down!” as Sal’s eldest son watches assembled black bodies burn his family’s livelihood and place in the neighborhood to ashes. He quietly utters, “Niggers.” Mother Sister, a black neighborhood matriarch, breaks into tears as she watches the violence unfold. The police and fire department eventually dis- 62 / Chapter 3 perse the crowd. The next morning, Radio Love Daddy wonders aloud on his radio show, “Are we ever going to live together?” Mookie and Sal reach a tenuous truce outside the ruined storefront, and the film fades to black. As if to encapsulate the tensions that propelled the film’s diegesis and the decade as a whole, Lee leaves viewers with two quotations from the perennial counterpoints of the civil rights era: Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. King insists, “violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all.” And the more militant Malcolm X counters, “I don’t even call it violence when it’s self-­ defense, I call it intelligence .” The credits role as it befalls us to find some semblance of truth in the aporia between their words.1 The 1980s ended without the racial apocalypse prophesied by Lee and so many other culture producers, politicians, and social commentators. Instead, judgment day came in 1992. On March 3, 1991, five Los Angeles police officers savagely beat black motorist Rodney King after he eluded them in a high-­speed pursuit. Unbeknownst to the officers, a resident videotaped the entire episode from his nearby apartment. The video received extensive media coverage and inspired outrage from activist organizations and Af­ ri­ can Ameri­ can residents. The King beating was not a particularly shocking affair for Black Los Angeles, but instead a rare concretization of postwar LAPD excesses. It represented, many hoped, an opportunity to force law enforcement accountability. The five officers were indeed charged with assault and excessive force. However, the judge agreed to a change of venue, and a majority white jury tried them in affluent Simi Valley, forty-­ five minutes northwest of Los Angeles. On April 29, 1992, the jury delivered “not guilty” verdicts on all charges. News of the acquittal spread quickly and black bodies began filling the streets of South Central. Angry protests turned into looting, property damage, and physical violence . While the LAPD went to great lengths to protect wealthy, predominantly white neighborhoodslikeBeverlyHills,theyhadvirtuallyabandoned South Cen­ tral. When most of the violence ended on May 4, fifty-­ three ­ people were dead, thousands of others arrested, and $1 billion in property was destroyed. In spite of...