It’s Bigger Than Weezy

Here’s a newsflash for you heads who have somehow spent the past month under a rock: Lil Wayne is out of prison.  That’s right; Weezy was sprung November 4th, after spending eight months of a year-long sentence inside on a gun conviction.

Hard as it might have been to miss the news of his release, it’s not impossible.  Much more ink was spilled in the spring chronicling his trial and the run-up to his arrival in jail.  Compared to the media frenzy that followed him eight months ago, mention of his release is being treated with a shrug of the shoulders.

Maybe it’s because celebrities in trouble sell more tabloids than celebs paying their dues.  In any event, that’s how it looks.  In the wake of the relatively easy treatment of Paris, LiLo and Martha, Lil Wayne became the entertainment rags’ golden whipping boy–proof that sometimes, despite the privilege of fame, celebrities do indeed do hard time.  This wasn’t a suspended sentence, nor was it time in some white-collar, minimum security prison.  This was Rikers!  Wayne was in a cell!  He even did time in solitary confinement!

Now, mainstream writers all seem content to wax sanctimonious, saying it’s good to finally see a celeb get his and hoping that he’s “learned his lesson.” What none of them point out is that Weezy’s conviction wasn’t about fame, connections or even money.  It was about good old-fashioned American racism.

In “post-racial” America, we aren’t supposed to mention these things, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist or that the facts somehow lie.  Those who get in a huff over the insistence that race had anything to do with it should have to account for more than a few discrepancies when the whole thing is put into context.

First will be those who point out that Wayne was in possession of a pistol that wasn’t registered to him when he was arrested in July of 2007.  True, but is there any comparable police presence at the shows of arch-conservative rock musician and gun-nut Ted Nugent?  Here is a man who admits to having transported weapons across state lines many times during his tours, and yet Nugent — whose opposition to gun laws might be enough to make Chuck Heston blush and who has appeared on white nationalist radio shows in recent years – has never even been so much as pulled over by the cops.

Then there will be those who shout that the cops wouldn’t have had reason to stop and question Wayne if he hadn’t been getting high outside his bus, and that it was “stupid” for him to be doing it in the first place.  The stupidity of marijuana laws aside (and they’re pretty damned stupid!), this rationale doesn’t bear scrutiny either.

Take, for example, the recent drug arrest of country legend Willie Nelson.  Nelson was found with 6 ounces of weed on him, charged with possession, and released on $2,500 bail.  Compare this to the arrest of rapper Wiz Khalifa five days after Weezy’s release.  Khalifa had 2 ounces on him–a third of what was discovered on Nelson’s tour bus–and yet was charged with distribution (which carries with it a heftier sentence), and wasn’t released until he posted $300,000 bail!  Combine this with the NYPD’s history of “keeping tabs” on hip-hop, and the case against Wayne becomes a lot less clear-cut.

Just as absent as the topic of race from the discussion has been the shameful state of America’s prisons.  Moral sadists prattle on about Weezy getting “special treatment” by being separated from the general population at Rikers Island, but one wonders about the condition of a jail where inmates have to be separated in the first place.  Recent years have seen repeated lawsuits filed against Rikers accusing the detention center’s guards of acquiescing to or encouraging violence among the population.  Special treatment this ain’t.

Then, there’s the time — perhaps more publicized than any other episode of Lil Wayne’s stretch — that he spent in solitary.  This in particular was harped on by many a commentator with a disturbing amount of glee.  None of these same journalists bothered to point out that the inhumanity of solitary confinement have been well documented by human rights activists, psychiatrists and prisoners themselves.  As Charles, a prisoner at Tamms Supermax Prison in Illinois who had been held in solitary confinement since 1998, says: “Lock yourself in your bathroom for the next 10 years and tell me how it will affect your mind.”

Lil Wayne didn’t do ten years in solitary; he did a month.  His quick return to the studio shows that he’s been released with his mind obviously intact.  Still, if he can be separated from human contact for the crime of possessing an mp3 player, what might have happened to him if he’d been caught for a far more egregious transgression?

Of course, there are countless Black men who are suffering the brunt of the American criminal injustice system far worse than Lil Wayne.  But that’s the point; if that system can get away with all of this while the cameras are rolling, then the horrors it commits against millions of anonymous human beings are enough to boggle the mind.

This could have been an opportunity for music scribes to ask some basic questions.  Like why hip-hop gets such a bad rap while the illicit behavior of rock or country stars barely gets a mention.  Or why it is that Black men are arrested and convicted at twice the rate of their white counterparts for the same crime.  Or how it is that world’s “greatest democracy” can lock up more people than any country on the planet and allow its cops to shoot anyone they like without reprisal.

Instead, those same writers resorted to easy punchlines.  Perhaps it’s a testament to what a volatile powder-keg we all are sitting on.

Alexander Billet, a music journalist and solidarity activist in Chicago, runs the website Rebel Frequencies. He is a frequent contributor to SocialistWorker.org, Dissident Voice, ZNet and the Electronic Intifada. He has also appeared in TheNation.com, Z Magazine, New Politics and the International Socialist Review. His first book, "Sounds of Liberation: Music In the Age of Crisis and Resistance," is expected out in the fall; you can donate to the project on Kickstarter. He can be reached at rebelfrequencies@gmail.com Read other articles by Alexander.

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  1. bozh said on December 4th, 2010 at 10:57am #

    however, american jurisprucence is a part on vaunted and untouchable u.s constitution.
    i do not know whether the writer of this piece thinks so also.
    it is really very simple: one cannot have jurisprudence as it is and had been for 30o yr + w.o. constitution being as it is also.
    judges who interpreted u.s C. 200 yrs ago were the same in-thought judges as the ones we have of today.
    and a u.s prez swears allegience to the constitution. no prez had to date ever violated any law it contains. if he wld annoy uncle sam, he may be persecuted or even prosecuted, but never ever for a violation of any constitutional law.
    and u.s is governed solely by laws.
    so, it is quite lawful if u.s jurisprudence puts one person in solitary confinement and not another even if the unlawful acts are same or similar.
    tnx