Monday, November 27, 2006

Fighting hip-hop commandments

Palm Beach Post Editorial Writer

Friday, November 17, 2006

Joe Marshall wants to bring an army of street soldiers to Palm Beach County.

Actually, he's not partial to West Palm Beach. He'll go anywhere young black males are dying because of street violence - whether by bullet or futureless bunk in a jail cell. He wants to go anywhere young people are wasting their talents staging violence in videos. He wants to go anywhere street violence is glorified in books, lyrics and homemade or professional videos with such self-evident titles as Gangstas & Thugs, a film long known to law-enforcement officials in Palm Beach County but released to the public in September.

Last Friday, just hours before West Palm Beach police found teens running with fake guns at an apartment complex after a call that shots had been fired, Dr. Marshall was launching what he calls the "Alive and Free" movement. He hopes that it will become a nationwide effort to cure young people of the "disease" of violence. The launch drew 750 people to a two-day conference in Birmingham, Ala., where a civil-rights institute honors Rosa Parks. "What good does it do," Dr. Marshall asks, "to win the right to ride the bus, if you're going to ride it, tear it down, and destroy everybody and everything in it?"

A former math teacher who saw too many of his students turn to gangs instead of college, Dr. Marshall wants to train "street soldiers" to attack violence as a public health issue. He has tried the approach successfully in San Francisco, where in 1987, he founded the Omega Boys Club/Street Soldiers as primarily an after-school tutoring and recreational program. Now, he hosts a call-in radio show on 12 stations, offers counseling for teens, talks to students in juvenile detention centers and provides college scholarships. His program has helped 115 students graduate from college. Another 55 are enrolled. "Our purpose," he said, "is to keep young people alive, free from violence and free from incarceration."

Fortunately, last Friday's stunt in West Palm Beach did not result in a teen being shot by police after waving one of the fake guns. Imagine the outcry if that had happened. But where is the deserved outrage for celebration of thuggery? "Nobody's shaking the tree," Dr. Marshall said. "Nobody's taking a stand."

To prevent a new type of AIDS in African-American communities - Addiction to Incarceration and Death Syndrome - Dr. Marshall will take on the entertainment industry, "particularly hip-hop music. That's a killer," spreading "germs" of bad information, bad advice and thinking that is "infected" by the "commandments of violence":

"Thou shalt not snitch. Thou shalt handle thy business. Thou shalt do what thy gotta do. Thou shalt get girls. Thou shalt not be no punk. Thou shalt get thy respect. Thou shalt get thy money on. Thou shalt carry a gun for protection. Thou shalt recruit. Thou shalt be down for thy set/hood/crew. Thou shalt be down for thy homeboy, right or wrong."

Dr. Marshall describes his prescription on the Web site, and in the July/August edition of The California Psychologist. Many will dismiss his "movement" as good-hearted and gimmicky. But he's right to attack "from all sides - the users and the sellers." The producers of Gangstas & Thugs are promising a sequel. One told a Palm Beach Post reporter that police are targeting them "because they don't like what we're putting together. If we stop filming, is the crime gonna stop?"

No, and the tobacco settlements didn't stop people from smoking. But they helped to change attitudes and consumption, which is why Dr. Marshall sees the fight against the tobacco industry as a model for what needs to happen with the hip-hop music industry.

For whites, who buy more hip-hop CDs than anyone, "That music says this is what it means to be black," he said. "It says sisters shake their butts and brothers throw money at them." For blacks, "that programming is 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at a time when there are fewer decoders than ever."

Perhaps any "street soldiers" would prove to be futile against real (or wannabe) gangstas and thugs. But as Dr. Marshall said: "In the absence of a community that says something different, how much chance do we have?"

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