Monday, December 25, 2006

R.I.P. James Brown

It was rather immature of me, but since I was about seven or eight years old, most things were rather not mature of me, so immature may not be the correct word. I’ll always remember getting a particular sense of pride in knowing that many of the other kids on my block didn’t have a song like “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” that they could sing along to. Surely, most of Puerto Rican, Dominican and South and Central American neighbors had their own cultural anthems in Spanish that I was not privy to, which actually made James Brown’s classic an even more powerful statement for me because everyone I knew understood the lyrics. You had to be Black, and Proud, to sing “Say it Loud,” and once I was introduced to the 1968 classic, I was to the umpteenth degree.

One particular memory of that song was when a group of friends and I were hanging around in the old parking lot behind what was then May’s department store in Jamaica Queens. There were about eight or nine of us and we had just finished one of our makeshift baseball games in the lot. As we stood there listening to the broadcast from either New Yorks 98.7 kissfm, or 107.5 WBLS, “Say it Loud,” came on and as I was wont to do, I started singing along, dropping in the refrain every time it was proclaimed. One of my friends started laughing at me—he was actually one of my tormentors—always poking fun at me for everything that seemed to be flaws in his image. He was two years older and like me he was overweight and wore glasses, that unlike me, he had to repeatedly re-orient back to the bridge of his nose. His constant adjusting of his glasses made them a more prominent feature on his face, than mine on mine, which probably explains why he felt incumbent to always call me four eyes.

Well on this day Sam figured that I again would be an easy target because I was the only one to have stepped off the railing and doing a two-step as I sang along to “Say it Loud.” The dirt specs from the rubber baseball that we used were whisking off my hands as I clapped them together. My other friends remained perched on the railing nodding their heads. Jesus dribbled the baseball on the pavement to the beat of the song, while Javier matched his pace by pounding the bat head along the same ground. When Sam pushed off the railing where he had been leaning and trying to mimic me started singing, “Say it loud, I’m white and I’m proud,” we all stopped what we were doing and turned our attention to him. As he laughed at his own antics, we tried making sense of his delirium taking place in the foothold of the sun. We would’ve had our heads cocked and looking at him cockeyed just for playing the fool, but that he was doing his trick in directly in the path of the sun made our squinting all the more pronounced.

I’ll never forget our friend Christian looking at Sam and saying with the utmost disdain, “what the f..k are you doing? You ain’t white! Sit your fat ass down.”

Sam tried explaining his dance, that he was just mimicking, that he was just…but no one was listening. James Brown was on and while they were willing to permit my offbeat singing and dancing, the crew was not willing to condone Sam’s blasphemy.

When I awoke this morning to the news that James Brown had died I immediately returned to that scene and countless other moments like that one in the particular where Brown’s music was a permanent fixture to post baseball game sessions. As we were being reared by hip-hop, with occasional visits by our pop aunts and uncles, our “godfather of soul” stood out the most. He was the only one from his generation who when one of his songs came on the radio, the dialed stayed in place. His most popular recordings may have been practically thirty years old by the time we were listening to them in the mid-eighties, but they felt as if they had just dropped the week before.

Brown’s recordings had not only reached the legendary stature of being timeless, but they were also timely, arriving at just the exact moment to help another generation deal with the complex issues of rhythm and identity.

I have a feeling that now that now that he has passed on Mr. Brown will be in peace, but not resting. He’s probably already speaking with Mozart about a song that he’s always wanted to do with him. And if you listen very closely to the heavens and to your soul, you will be able to hear it any day now.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Monday, December 18, 2006

My Melo, My Man

The NBA just handed down the suspensions from Saturday night’s brawl. Carmelo Anthony, currently the league’s leading scorer and a contender for most valuable player received the harshest penalty, a 15-game suspension. Knicks guard Nate Robinson and Nuggets guard J.R. Smith garnered 10-game suspensions for their role in the melee and Knicks guard Mardy Collins was hit with a 6-game ban from the court.

I believe the player suspensions were fair. Although, while he threw and landed a punch, I thought Anthony deserved a suspension more in line with what Robinson and Smith received.

What upsets me however is the fact that neither coach was suspended for their role in their fracas. Broadcasters and talk-radio hosts have been comparing the Knicks and Nuggets spat at the garden to the fight that erupted at the Palace at Auburn Hills toward the end of a Pistons and Pacers match two years ago, but Saturday nights events were dramatically different. Yes there was a fight that trickled into the stands, but the comparisons between the two ends there. The Pistons and Pacers were bitter division rivals and the Pacers were the lead challengers to the Pistons throne. In Ben Wallace and Ron Artest the principal protagonists in that fight, you had two of the most aggressive and equally petulant players in the league, therefore making it almost inevitable that as long as these two players continued battling against each other on the court, there was going to be a confrontation sooner or later.

At the same time, you also had two organizations and coaches that had a considerable amount of respect for each other. Pacers coach Rick Carlisle may have been bitter at his dismissal at the hands of Joe Dumars, but he, Larry Brown, Larry Bird and Dumars did not over-hype their falling out. If they did it would be an affront to the hard-working residents of Michigan and Indiana who have been coping with layoffs and firings for the last twenty years without nearly as lucrative back-up plans as Carlisle found in the Pacers. In short, you can not blame the coaches for this battle.

In the Knicks and Nuggets battle however, George Karl and Isaiah Thomas deserve to shoulder part of the blame and punishment for their role in instigating the fight. Karl and the rest of his North Carolina Tar Heel brethren/Larry Brown acolytes need to get over the fact that Brown was fired. Making snide comments in the press and trying to elicit sympathy for Brown is absurd, a fact that Phil Jackson pointed out last month when he called Greg Popovich for advocating for Brown, but none of the other coaches who have faced “unfair” dismissals. Beating the Knicks by sixty will not avenge Larry Brown, and if Marcus Camby were to have gotten injured as he’s wont to do, or worse Anthony, during the closing minutes of that fourth quarter, Karl’s pettiness could have cost his team even more.

Secondly, Isaiah Thomas needs to reel in his players. Thomas is one of the thirty greatest players in the history of his sport and he should realize the difference between players who talk a great game and those who play one. Right now he has a slew of players who talk much better than they produce. His guards are particularly guilty as they each are trying to carry on the legacy of their esteemed coach, but in media laden New York brimming with fans ready to throw any athlete under the bus regardless of how great he is (e.g. Patrick Ewing, Reggie Jackson and Alex Rodriguez) sometimes it’s best to speak softly and play hard and let your performance dictate your legacy (e.g. Derek Jeter and Charles Oakley).

Right now it’s all speculation whether or not Thomas instructed his players to commit hard-fouls on Nuggets players going to the basket, but as more evidence is presented, it’s becoming easier to believe that if he did not do it explicitly, it was conveyed implicitly. Knocking out someone at the end of a game should not be seen as a display of pride, but rather a brazen disregard for the mission at hand, play good basketball, win games, and in the event you lose, learn from your mistakes.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Monday, December 11, 2006

Romantic Call

When this video came on, the first thing that came to mind was do these NBA cats know that they have the same fashion taste as Patra? Okay, I know many players who wear these arm sleeves first worn by AI, then female rapper Eve, probably do have some kind of elbow pain. All the exercises that they go through during the course of the year are bound to put enough strain on their elbows that they develop some kind of tendinitis. I'm not sure about some of the cats on college and in high school rocking these things though....

Anyways, the elbow sleeve was not the only discovery in this video. Little did I know/remember that the legendary 2pac had a cameo in this joint. I'm always a 50/50 cat on Pac, but I do remember enjoying his music and work when he was not involved in the east vs west fiasco.

As I continue longing for a few of those good ol' southern california days, the sight of Pac, Yo-Yo and Patra driving around, makes me nostalgic for not only the city of angels, but being young and having fun in the early 90s.

And while I'm at it, peace out to Jamaica High School class of '94 and everyone else who was getting down to Patra, Shabba and Mad Cobra back in the day.

The Nightshift Chronicler

Friday, December 08, 2006

I Ain't Sayin' Nothin'

But I bet that this dolphin would be better than half the cats out right now

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

They Shootin' 3: Expendable Black People Zones

As the fallout over the Sean Bell continues the usual jockeying over who's more "innocent" is ratcheting up in the New York media. The police officers claim that they were "justified" in shooting, which is another way of saying that they are innocent of the accusations being leveled against them. On the other side, the survivors Joseph Guzman and Trent Benefield have the lack of a gun and their bullet-riddled car as proof of their own innocence. The police attorneys remained adamant that there was a fourth shooter, who miraculously has yet to appear. Along with taking needed attention from the two men lying in their hospital beds, this defiant search for the fourth shooter, presumably the lone guilty party in this case, this quest takes away from the most glaring issue: If the undercover officers were in the club investigating accusations of drug dealing and prostitution, why did they follow the non-drug carrying or prostitute bearing trio of Bell, Benefield and Guzman out of the club?

Wouldn't wielding all of their might on these three jeopardize their entire investigation?

Just a thought.

Remaining on this question of guilt and innocence for a few more moments, NYTimes Columnist Bob Herbert produced this opinion piece on the December 4th narrating another incident in which a group of young people were intimidated by undercover officers. Except this time there was no shooting and the multi-racial group of Ivy-League graduates, one bound for Harvard Law. Herbert's piece is entitled "Presumed Guilty" as in the two black men were presumed guilty of stealing the car in which they were sitting. However, as it turns out this article might have been well served being titled 'very lucky':

It turned out that the cops were acting on a mistaken computer report that Mr.
Rowley’s car was stolen. As frightening as the incident was, the four people in the car were
lucky that none of the cops opened fire. “I spent that night in jail,” said Mr. Rowley, “and
a lot of the officers told me that if this had been elsewhere — for example, if this had been
in the Bronx or Harlem — I’d have been dead.”

The quote comes from one of the victims pounced upon by the officers in front of the Union Square train station at 14th street in NY's Village.

I was alarmed (definitely not surprised) to hear the declaration "if this has been in the Bronx or Harlem — I’d have been dead.”

Are we all ready to agree that Black people living in certain sections of New York city are expendable? We know about the health concerns of living in communities without adequate grocery stores, and chemical plants that increases one's chances of asthma and lead poisoning. Should we just go ahead and list certain districts as EBPZs (Expendable Black People Zones)? Maybe come up with traffice signs, better yet, tolls to iterate that you are entering a EBPZ at your own risk.

For most of the twentieth century African Americans knew that we had to alter our behavior if we traveled through the South, the original EBPZ. The murder of Emmett Till brought these horrors to the fore of the nation's consciousness and those working in the Civil Rights Movemements of the 50s, 60s, and 70s did their best to eradicate as many of these EBPZs as possible. It appears now that we are now at the tipping point, either there's going to be a new proliferation of EBPZ as African Americans are gentrified out of the prime spaces in major cities and segregated into new/old ghettos--or and I hope this happens, that some serious changes occur and we never hear these words again "if this has been in the Bronx or Harlem — I’d have been dead.”

This would have to be a national programme, because as the case of Brandon Burks, the 16year old Michigan teen shot and killed on Sunday November 26th, this phenomena extends well beyond New York. Burks's case also involved a plainclothes police officer, this time one moonlighting as a security guard.

One might say that it's a tragic coincidence that Bell and Burk's deaths took place on the same weekend, but the facility with which African Americans have been able to avail testimonies of similar incidents suggests that these deaths go far beyond coincidence.

Police officers as a whole should not be unjustly indicted for the actions of a few.

Instead, what we need is a very frank national discussion about policing before the American nightmare of totalitarian regimes really take shape. The fact that so many African Americans in particular, and young people in general can easily rattle off incidents of harassment at the hands of police officers suggests that too many Americans are forced to vascillate between fearing officers and having to rely on them, neither of which is conducive to effective police work.