That was quick. It's been twelve hours since a shooting at Irving Plaza left a 33-year-old man dead and three other people, including Brooklyn’s Troy Ave, injured. The motives for the shooting are still uncertain and there are so far no reports of a suspect being apprehended.
But we do now have our first Racist Bingo: Rap Music Is The Devil 2016 Edition winner! Who might it be? A politician? A right-wing television anchor? Your dad?
All wrong. It is, in fact, NYPD commissioner William Bratton who went on to New York-based radio station WBCS this morning to deliver:
We have a pretty good idea of what happened. The crazy world of the so-called rap artists who are basically thugs that are basically celebrating the violence that they’ve lived all their lives, and unfortunately, that violence oftentimes manifests itself during their performances, and that’s exactly what happened last evening…
The interviewer then asks Bratton if he thought he'd left "the thug culture" behind after his first stint as comissioner in the 90s, opening the door for him to allude to last year's arrest of Bobby Shmurda, whose own prolonged imprisonment on the grounds that he is a criminal mastermind has been controversial:
Not at all. We made an arrest last year of a character who is still basically awaiting trial. Him and his cast of characters were involved in a whole series of crimes and shootings. This world has not reformed. It’s unfortunate. The backgrounds of a lot of these young people, they are significant artists in that world, if you will. Unfortunately the lifestyles they led, the lifestyles they came out of, often time follow them into the entertainment world and the success they have in it.It's unfortunate. You'd like to think that all the wealth that comes with the fame, they'd turn their lives around, but they continue hanging out with the same people they hung out with when they came out of that world of desperation, poverty, and crime.
And then there's a delightful moment in which the other interviewer mentions that T.I., who so far has not been implicated in this matter beyond playing a show at Irving Plaza, had been in jail before. Bratton agrees that this is significant:
You make my case, in terms of TI. We have a pretty good idea of what happened. We put it together pretty quickly. It's unfortunate. There's no denying that to a lot of people these are talented artists, they enjoy the music.
The music unfortunately oftentimes celebrates violence, celebrates degradation of women, celebrates the drug culture. And it’s unfortunate that, as they get fame and fortune, that some of them are just not able to get out of the life, if you will.
OK, now you don’t just win Racist Bingo by being the first white dude to say something fucking stupid, you have to complete the game. So let’s take a look at this.
“We have a pretty good idea what happened,” says the commissioner of the New York Police Department. OK, so he—again, the commissioner of the New York Police Department—is probably about to come at you with some facts and details about, you know, “what happened.” But wait, he begins the next sentence with “The backgrounds of a lot of these young people,” which as far as I can tell is not a fact at all. It’s almost like, gee I don’t know, he’s about to pull something out of his ass.
What he does next is the verbal equivalent of reaching down towards his ass, pulling something out, and staring at it as it unfurls in front of him. “Look,” he seems to say, motioning your horrified gaze towards the shit-covered monstrosity before him. “There’s a narrative coming out of my ass.”
From there it’s pretty much just championship-level, A-Grade, ol’ fashioned Racist Bingo gold. He manages to get the word “thugs” out really quickly, letting the listener know right away that he’s uncomfortable saying the N-word in 2016 but, c’mon guys, you all get it. He goes for the ol’ Tipper Gore one-two of “violence oftentimes manifests itself during their performances” and “This world has not reformed,” a real winner that appeals to the old school, there.
Particular attention here should be given to William Bratton—who, honestly, is the commissioner of the Police Department of New York City—for his nuanced take on rap music and its qualities. There are only so many people who can refer to “so-called rap artists” in one breath and then move onto call rappers—just generally rappers—“significant artists in the world,” many of whom “are talented artists, they enjoy the music.”
But above all, Bratton's rush to frame this as T.I.'s fault—"You make my case, in terms of T.I."—with boilerplate critiques about rappers bringing their lifestyle with them continues a long, racially charged tradition of broad strokes characterization of rappers as criminals. T.I., of course, has publicly distanced himself from criminal activity since his own jail stint, and it's the continued portrayal of rap in these terms that stokes racist overreaction to incidents like this.
The floodgates are now officially open, America.
Alex Robert Ross doesn't like staring at shit-covered narratives for too long. Follow him on Twitter.