Last Friday, Polo G released Hall of Fame, his third studio album, with star-studded features from Nicki Minaj and Roddy Ricch, along with a posthumous verse from Pop Smoke. On Saturday, the news broke that following an album release party later that night, he, along with his 16-year-old brother, had been arrested by the Miami Police Department.
In an arrest affidavit obtained by TMZ this week, Miami Police claim that they pulled over Polo G’s car because of its window tints, leading to a scuffle when police tried to “forcefully remove Polo from [the car].” The Chicago rapper is facing five charges, TMZ reported, including resisting an officer and battery on an officer.
Stacia Mac, the rapper’s mother, voiced her concerns to Miami Police via Twitter that Saturday. “WHERE ARE MY SONS?! WHERE IS MY MINOR SON?! ANSWER THAT!!” “None of these charges would be possible if the POLICE did not make contact with my son Polo G!!!” Mac tweeted. “He was NOT the driver. He was a PASSENGER in a professionally licensed vehicle with security. He was moving smart and correctly. What more could he have done.”
Mac’s comments suggest that her sons were racially profiled by the police. In an America where Black adults are five times as likely to say they have been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, it's easy to understand the distrust toward police. But when it comes to the patrolling of rappers, like Polo G, that target is often magnified.
In cities like Chicago, New York, and Miami, “rap units” heavily surveil hip-hop artists, casting a pall of fear and paranoia over rappers in the space and threatening to thwart young artists’ careers from the moment they get off the ground. Polo G’s arrest in Miami, in conjunction with Pooh Shiesty's arrest last October and police questioning DaBaby earlier this month, are just a few examples of the Miami Police Department’s contentious history when it comes to targeting rappers.
In 2004, The Miami Herald published an article exposing the watchdog tactics of the city’s police department. The piece, co-written by Evelyn McDonnell and Nicole White, is unavailable on the internet, but the reporting around its revelations paint a picture of a system predicated on discriminatory practices. The Herald reported that the Miami Police Department had been “secretly watching hip-hop artists,” and that it was doing so with the help of the NYPD, which had launched a rap intelligence unit back in the late 90s.
In an interview that appeared in the Village Voice, the NYPD confirmed the relationship: “We have an intelligence division and we have detectives that monitor the music industry and any incidents regarding the music industry,” said Officer Doris Garcia, a spokesperson for the NYPD. “And in regards to Miami P.D. we did exchange information, and that’s it.” Garcia’s statement did not reveal the extent or scope of the flow of information between the two departments, but, according to Village Voice, the link between the operations in both cities was Derrick Parker, the NYPD officer who was the originator of the rap units in question.
Parker’s presence in New York rap circles began after the death of Biggie Smalls in 1997, despite the murder taking place in Los Angeles. In a 2004 Village Voice article, Parker described the New York rap unit as “ a one-man shop to keep tabs on any and all incidents involving rappers or their crews.” Later, in the lead-up to the 2004 Source Awards, he said that the city of Miami reached out seeking assistance from the NYPD regarding hip-hop related crimes.
Following the controversy of McDonnell and White’s article, Miami officials held a press conference where they denied the Herald’s claims that Miami police “do not stake out rappers, have never photographed them, and do not maintain local files on them.” According to reporting by the Miami New Times, however, some of the most shocking information the Herald unearthed never made it to print. Drawing on previously unpublished testimony from two active Miami officers, New Times claimed there was evidence that the NYPD had been in contact with the Miami PD, informing the Florida department of rappers who were traveling there and going so far as to provide flight and license plate numbers of artists and their entourages.
And though city of Miami, Miami PD, and Parker denied that there was any official dossier dedicated to the hip-hop scene in 2004, an interview with Parker in a recent episode of NPR's Louder Than a Riot painted a similarly chiling picture of the NYPD's activities: “The rule is—we don’t get upset at you guys. We shut you down. If you go to a venue and they book you, we’ll put the pressure on the venue to cancel you.”
Parker’s statement isn’t hyperbole. It offers a window into the mindset of a system oriented toward the perception of guilt versus actual guilt—one that has already claimed the careers of too many rappers—like Chief Keef, Bobby Shmurda, and Sheff G—whose claim to fame was their indomitable spirit. These rap units are a new iteration of gang units, but what the police force fails to realize is that gangs and rap entourages are not interchangeable.
“How does a traffic stop where my son’s not even driving turn into a full on police brigade of 20, 30 fucking cars to drag three men out of a car,” Mac asked this past weekend on Instagram Live. “It’s ridiculous. It’s excessive. [And] at the least, it’s egregious and it’s fucking racist.”
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.