Hiphop Archive & Research Institute: Statement In Support of Protests

Dear Hiphop Archive and Research Institute Community (HARI),

HARI reaches out to express our sorrow, grief and rage at the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Kayla Moore and countless others we have lost too soon to murders by police. We stand in solidarity with protestors in declaring that Black Lives Matter and condemn the police brutality and the history of state-based racist violence, including the institution of slavery itself, that have made the protesting necessary.

For centuries, music has played an essential role in the black struggle for freedom. Powerful protest songs have lifted every black freedom movement along with the spirits of those who worked within them. For almost half a century, Hiphop has been one of the most dynamic cultural forces in freedom movements all over the world. We recognize that Hiphop was born of black responses to oppression and racism, and we honor the current movement as something connected to our very essence as the Hiphop Archive and Research Institute. We are heartened to see Hiphop fueling the movement still, with songs like Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” forming the background to ongoing protests. Hiphop, as it always has, is inspiring generations of artists and activists who are amplifying messages of justice in media and contributing politically in their home communities.  Today, Hiphop is the undeniable cultural voice of the current protest movement.

Hiphop was created by black youth from low-income East Coast communities who were from different parts of the African diaspora and were the targets of police violence, the same group of people who remain the primary targets of police violence today. Hiphop music and culture and the people who make it and love it have been the specific targets of racist, police, and criminal justice system aggression since the beginning of the culture.  For centuries, music has played an essential role in the black struggle for freedom. Powerful protest songs have lifted every movement along with the spirits of those who worked in them.   For almost half a century, Hiphop has been one of the most dynamic cultural forces in the struggle for freedom.

In the face of this danger and sometimes death, Hiphop has always been a voice of truth and transformation, and that voice remains as strong and brilliant as ever. Many of the young people who created Hiphop had been raised on resistance; including the Black Freedom Movement of the 20th Century in which ending police and state-sanctioned violence were central goals of liberation. When agents of state violence declared war on the Black Power Movement in the 1970s and tried to bring the movement and its activists to their knees, it was Hiphop culture and music that rose up within the decade, lifted the voices and values of liberation, and carried them forward and outward to what is now a global, multimillion-member Hiphop community. To this day Hiphop’s “beautiful struggle,” – to use Martin Luther King Junior’s term – for freedom and justice continues. It “Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.”

Like many of today’s young people of color, the young people who created Hiphop had been abandoned and attacked by the individuals and institutions that were supposed to protect them. It is an indictment of our society and current police and criminal justice policies that the words of early Hiphop protest songs that condemned police violence are as relevant and poignant today as they were over thirty years ago when Ice Cube challenged officers who “think they have the authority to kill a minority” and “slam ya down to the street top,” words that foreshadowed the murder of George Floyd and so many others. Historically, protests and uprisings have occurred many times in response to police and state-based violence and murder both in and outside of the United States.  Malcolm X, whose words inspired many activists, once said, “you can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom [or she has her freedom or they have their freedom.]” The year after the 1992 Los Angeles Uprisings in response to the beating of Rodney King, KRS-One explained that if police “wanna get props and be a savior/first show a little respect, change your behavior.” He lamented that his grandfather and great grandfather and “great, great, great, great great” grandfather had to “deal with cop,” and asked, “when it’s gonna stop?” It is a question today’s protesters are answering.

Like Lauryn Hill, today’s protesters “won't accept deception instead of what is truth.”  Like J. Cole, they just want to “Be Free.” The Hiphop Archive and Research Institute will stand up for and with protesters until freedom is claimed for everyone. We owe our existence to an art form that was created to share the stories of black lives and show how they matter. We owe it to our community to continue to demand justice beyond what has already been given, because it is not enough, and black people are still unsafe in this country. 

As we stand for our shared First Amendment rights of speech and assembly, we celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the 15th Amendment, which legally gave black men the right to vote, and the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which legally gave women the right to vote. These are rights that people have fought and died for and that black people, including our brothers and sisters behind bars, are still struggling to claim. We hope that in November, you will remember that your vote is a powerful form of protest. Not only did people die for you to have it, but they gave you the power to save lives in the future by voting for candidates and propositions that are committed to changing policing and criminal justice policies and laws; for expanding health care rights and access, including women’s health care rights; and to respecting science and saving our planet.

We encourage you to remember that the African American history of activism has always been focused on achieving concrete demands, goals, and rights. Educate yourself about effective policing and criminal justice changes and how they can be most effective in your community.  Demand those changes from the local, state, and national leaders.  Be a leader yourself.  We support the movement and will continue working to recognize the legacy of those who have perished at the hands of white supremacy so that they are not forgotten and may rest in peace and power.  We also affirm that we are here for our community. We encourage you to take care of yourselves, as you seek to take care of one another. When you protest, we hope you will do so while doing what you can to protect yourself, the people around you, and the people you go home to, especially the seniors we all love. Police violence has not stopped for or stopped the Covid-19 Pandemic, and Black and Latinx people have not stopped disproportionately dying from it. Protest for and protect the people you love.

We stand with the protesters. We stand with the Black community. We stand with Black women, especially the black women who started #BlackLivesMatter. We stand with members of the Black LGBTQI+ community who are victims of many forms of violence, including police violence. We stand for more inclusive, intersectional, and courageous conversations in every community. We stand with Black people who suffer from mental illnesses and trauma, who are among the most vulnerable to police violence. We stand for health care, including mental health care, as a human right and against the “treatment” of mental illness with a prison sentence or a death sentence. We stand with Kayla Moore, a Black transgender woman artist.  Like millions of people, she suffered from a mental illness. Like Eric Garner before her and George Floyd after her, Kayla Moore was unarmed and could not breathe as six police officers piled on top of her until she died in her own home. We #SayHerName. We stand with black people who are vulnerable in multiple ways because we deserve to be visible and valued in every way. We see you. We hear you. We stand with you. We stand for and with the fallen who can no longer stand for themselves.  

Although we are far away from one another, we are still here for you and thank this community for your continued endeavors for justice. We have seen our alumni and current researchers take stands at protests, compile resources for others on websites, and create drives of essential supplies for protestors. We never cease to be inspired by you. We send you love and strength, and we reaffirm how much you matter to this community and the world.