Advertisement

Beyonce is not the enemy, bad cops are

A number of law enforcement officers are in a tizzy about, of all things, Beyonce's halftime show at the Super Bowl a few weeks ago and her "Formation" music video.

They've got her up there with the Black Panthers of the 1960s and '70s — which J. Edgar Hoover's FBI accused "of advocating the murder of police officers," as one CBS correspondent recently put it — and N.W.A., the rap group that in the 1980s gave the world a pre-billionaire Dr. Dre, a pre-thespian Ice Cube and a song that disparaged police like those acquitted in California for beating a motorist named Rodney King.

Advertisement

Like them, Beyonce is now supposedly a Police Enemy No. 1. History has shown that Hoover's FBI was a greater menace to society than the Panthers he set out to annihilate. And anyone who has seen the film "Straight Outta Compton" could come away viewing N.W.A. as 1st Amendment champions, persecuted by police like those now yammering about Beyonce because of words. It is worth noting that neither her images nor her words are nearly as incendiary as N.W.A.'s.

In a collage of grievances lasting just under five minutes, she presents a musical manifesto of black pride and woman power — Beyonce style — amid images of Creole culture, Hurricane Katrina, police brutality, religion and female solidarity. Musicologists and psychologists and feminists and hip hop aficionados can more authoritatively sift through "Formation" to discern a message.

As much as I do not get all that she is saying, I do know that Beyonce's message is not as simplistic as hating police. In their sound-the-alarm statements and their threats to refuse to work security for her during a world tour that's slated to come to Baltimore in June — for extra pay, of course — they are trying to drown out the message. In the process they are doing what they accuse her of doing: widening the gulf between police and the people they are sworn to protect and serve. A New York police sergeants leader told CBS: "As a celebrity figure Beyonce should take greater responsibility in her divisive actions that further complicate relationships between communities of color and the members of law enforcement."

They've got things a bit wrong. What actually complicates "relationships between communities of color and the members of law enforcement" are the actions of bad cops that are not sufficiently condemned by good cops. Instead of addressing their own shortcomings, they encourage warm-and-fuzzy counter-narratives: police officers shooting hoops with kids or a D.C. officer breaking up a fight by breaking into the Nae Nae in a dance challenge.

My favorite this week is the story of an 11-year-old Lansing, Mich., boy who decided to celebrate his birthday by throwing an appreciation party for law enforcement officers. He had become troubled last year after seeing police besieged in one incident after another. As his mother tells it: "He goes, 'Mom, the cops are still the good guys, right?' And I said, 'Yeah, there are some bad police officers. And there are still the good ones that are trying to protect themselves.'" His party drew law men and women from as far away as California and Georgia.

In cities like Baltimore people go out of the way to insist that 95 percent of police officers are good and only 5 percent are trouble. If we take that unverified assumption as fact, then why shut down any criticism aimed at the 5 percent and the systems that provide them cover? Why allow rules that insulate them from interrogation immediately after questionable actions? Or, in Georgia, a rule permitting officers to influence grand juries. They sit in on proceedings, tailor their statements to jurors to fit the evidence they have heard and never have to face questions from the jurors. The situation is so outrageous that even state police and prosecutors are now supporting a change in the law to bolster public confidence and, not incidentally, counter "the anti-police people in social media [who] hijack the dialogue" after police-involved death, as the state police chief has said.

Here's the thing. There are good cops to be respected and even celebrated. And there are those others, the ones who disturb a whole lot more people than Beyonce.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: er.shipp@aol.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement