Bronx based rap group Rebel Diaz know this well. They are the kind of musicians who use the confrontation of rap as a springboard for their militant politics. The masthead on their website reads "if hip-hop organized the whole world would be in trouble."
Their single "Which Side Are You On?" rattles off a litany of figures and causes they side with from unions to deported immigration activist Elvira Arellano to the people's movement in Oaxaca, Mexico to the very idea of socialist revolution.
Rebel Diaz are by no means naive. Two of the group's three MCs are sons of Chilean activists who fled after the CIA-backed coup of Augusto Pinochet in 1973. Like all good revolutionaries, however, they realize that no real change comes without risk.
That risk became reality last week when it was reported that on June 18th, two of the group's MCs were arrested by the NYPD after intervening in a case of clear police harassment. According to hip-hop activist Davey D, Rodstarz and G1 witnessed police aggressively questioning an immigrant street vendor.
After noticing the police were becoming abusive they began to tape the incident on one of their cell phones. Upon asking for badge numbers, the cops turned on the two MCs, hitting them with billy clubs, handcuffing and arresting them.
This is a story familiar to anyone living in a community that is coming under the thumb of gentrification and racist police authoritarianism. Nobody in these communities needs to be told who the cops are really there to "serve and protect." But there is another layer to this heinous incident. As D points out:
"The backdrop to this story is that Rebel Diaz are not your ordinary rappers. They are well known activist [sic] who not only speak out against police terrorism, but have been key in helping out folks within this immigrant community... Many feel that the assault by these cowardly Bronx police officers in plain view of everyone was a way to send a strong message to folks in the community that the police run things and they best stay in line."
Rodstarz and G1 were released on their own recognizance. Yet the harrassment didn't stop there. Early in the morning of June 24th, G1's apartment was raided by the NYPD. They had no warrant; they did not give a reason for the raid. Needless to say, they didn't bother to knock. G1 describes the incident:
"They pointed their guns at us the whole time as they verbally barraged MM [his friend] and I with questions as to who we were and what we were doing there. As I lay on the ground with my hands up, I replied loudly and clearly that I lived there, and that everyone in the house was supposed to be there. They replied incredulously, repeatedly yelling their questions as to who we were, with threats as to what would happen to us if I was found to be lying."
The police left without arresting anyone or identifying themselves.
On September 3rd, G1 and Rodstarz will be headed to court to face misdemeanor charges of assault and obstruction of justice. Their high profile in the community as artists and activists may well be used against them during trial. It wouldn't be the first time for hip-hop, and certainly not for radical politics.
Yet the case of Rebel Diaz is hardly isolated. The clearing out of poor neighborhoods to make way for condos and strip malls is a crime that happens every day. And of course, the very people whose job it is to stop crime are the ones carrying it out. Rebel Diaz shouldn't be arrested for standing up to this injustice. They should be commended, supported and most of all, listened to.
*To learn what you can do to support Rebel Diaz, go to their website.