Most people who read about the lawsuit being brought against black rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur by Linda Sue Davidson ("Testing the Limits," Calendar, Oct. 13) probably had the same initial reaction I did: Here we go again.
We have, after all, trudged through these muddy waters before. The Beatles, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest and most recently rapper Ice-T have all been charged at one time or another with the same crime Davidson accuses Shakur of committing: contributing to the homicidal (or suicidal) tendencies of a fan.
In Shakur's case, this alleged contribution--the penning of a particularly violent rap song--is being named as an accessory of sorts in the death of Davidson's husband, Bill, a Texas state trooper who was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop.
Davidson's supporters would suggest that her husband's death, which came at the hands of a 19-year-old black man who admitted listening to Shakur's song at the time of the killing, was only the natural byproduct of lyrics that openly advocate such crimes against innocent police officers everywhere.
The people in Shakur's corner counter that the young man is merely an artist, an inner-city observer and reporter, and as such cannot be held accountable for the bad reactions some head-cases out there in his audience may have from time to time to his music.
Personally, I believe the truth lies somewhere in between.
For starters, I think the kind of policemen rappers like Shakur and Ice-T usually have in mind when they take pen in hand are not the kind that people like Linda Davidson know very much about.
Not that he bothers to make the distinction, but the law enforcement officer Shakur assassinates in song is no harmless Andy of Mayberry; rather, it is the uniformed psychotic Shakur has no doubt seen in action all over the 'hood, busting heads and taking names; the kind of cop who would despise him on sight simply on general principle, whether he were a second-generation Black Panther or a fifth-generation altar boy.
If the Rodney G. King beating came as a revelation to you, you can't possibly know what I'm talking about. But if it struck you instead as nothing more than the first time such a brutal misuse of police authority against an African-American was captured on tape, then I expect you follow me perfectly.
Young black people like Shakur do not emerge from the womb despising police authority. The disdain they come to hold for policemen is something they acquire over time, based upon personal observations and experiences.
If Shakur's decidedly bad attitude toward the police is representative of the way many black Americans feel about law enforcement in this country--and I am here to suggest to you that it is--perhaps it has something to do with the kind of law enforcement America's inner cities have typically been provided. Just ask the Christopher Commission.
Now, as for Shakur, his problem may indeed be more with the law itself than the individuals who try to enforce it. The Times article certainly seemed to suggest he and his homies have a bent toward anti-social, if not technically criminal, behavior. But does this make him an accessory? Does he deserve to share the blame for the tragic death of a Texas state trooper just because he wrote a rap song someone took for an unqualified endorsement of cop-killing?
But I can tell you what he does deserve: all the public attention and adulation one would grant to the witness of a common traffic accident. Because Shakur, like all African-Americans in the entertainment industry, wields the power to offer his fans something other than a mere soundtrack for their anger and pain--only he chooses not to use it.
Instead, he merely writes songs that tell young black people like the killer of Bill Davidson nothing they don't already know. Life is hard, and life for a black man is harder.
In other words, Shakur didn't cause the accident that resulted in Davidson's death. He didn't stop the accident. He just stood by the side of the road and rapped about it.
That isn't murder, people. It's just a waste.