is it time to cut the t.i’s of the world loose?

the day after the story of atlanta-based rapper t.i.’s arrest on federal gun charges broke i was listening to the a-team on hot 107.9 (yes, don’t be so surprised, i have some pretty broad tastes.) anyway, they had an entertaiment lawyer on who was basically speculating that t.i. was probably set-up and he was probably set-up because white america doesn’t like the music he was selling to their kids.

so the question of whether t.i. was set-up or not is a factual one that will eventually be determined by a jury. if t.i. really did attempt to purchase machine guns and silencers as a convicted felon there is no doubt he is in violation of federal law. and if half the facts in the complain affidavit are true than he is certainly guilty. for example the complaint says that the atf has t.i. on tape asking for change from the $12K he gave his bodyguard to procure the guns.

the move to stand-up for t.i., or speculate about whether he was set-up, reminds me of a post i made a while back linking to a story about vick and his defenders. the story explained why there are many in the black community who rally almost instinctively to the defense of a black man accused of a crime.

and i get it. i understand that if the justice system has been used for decades to systematically ‘keep you in your place,’ you would be distrustful of it. i appreciate that if you image of law enforcement includes bull connor and his dogs, you might be reticent about a black man being taken down in a parking lot on piedmont and north.

i guess my real question is, is t.i. worth the defense though?

at what point is reflexively defending people like t.i. and mike vick doing a disservice to people who may really be the victims of inequality in the justice system.

cynthia tucker makes many of these points in her ajc editorial today, saying:

Last year, T.I. attended the funeral of Philant Johnson, 26, his best friend and personal assistant, who was shot dead in a gun battle among moving cars on I-75 near Cincinnati. Police said the gunfire followed an argument involving unidentified locals and T.I.’s entourage at a Cincinnati nightclub. If Harris had regrets about Johnson’s death, they apparently didn’t manifest as pacifism. He kept a small arsenal at his College Park home, according to police.

The criminal justice system — notorious for grinding black men down — gave the young rapper T.I. a second chance after he was convicted for selling cocaine. Not only has he launched a highly successful music career, but he has also won notice as an actor. He has a role in the new movie, “American Gangster,” starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe.

But given that second chance, what did Harris do? If he had machine guns, as police say, at whom did he intend to point them?

Homicide is the leading cause of death among black men between the ages of 15 and 30. And it is a fratricidal enterprise. Young black men are killed by other young black men.

If white entertainers were making millions singing about the slaughter of black men and mistreatment of black women, city streets would clog with protesters. Demonstrators would pack the halls of Congress. Commerce would grind to a halt as black activists demanded boycotts. But somehow, the violence and misogyny of T.I., 50 Cent and Nelly are less inflammatory.

Yes, a lot of their music is purchased by white consumers, as a lot of it is marketed by white executives. But blaming The Man seems shallow and irresponsible when black Americans are abetting their own destruction.

add to that that t.i. will be able to afford the best lawyers in the country, that he has the resources to mount as effective a defense as anyone else, and the question becomes, again, is rallying around him doing the cause of greater equality in the justice system really a disservice?

i don’t know the answer, but it’s sure worth asking.

(oh and i am betting we will not get universal agreement in the comments either)

11 Comments so far

  1. Rashid Z. Muhammad (unregistered) on October 17th, 2007 @ 6:23 pm

    Assuming that he is being set up by the Powers that Be, the real problem is that he and so many like him make it dead simple for the machine to chew them up.

    This is a problem that can be largely eliminated on the front end.

  2. karsh (unregistered) on October 18th, 2007 @ 9:44 am

    Recommended viewing from Jay Smooth @ Ill Doctrine:

    It really helps put the whole T.I. situation in a bit of a different perspective.

  3. james (unregistered) on October 18th, 2007 @ 9:56 am

    it’s a good link, karsh, and i am glad you dropped it in the comments. i’d encourage everyone to go look at it.

    that being said, i guess my comment was more geared toward those who continue to enable these behaviors by defending those who conduct them.

    i’m not suggesting we right t.i. off as a person or recognize that their is probably stuff in his background that led him to behave this way, i am suggesting though, that constantly apologizing for and defending people who get caught fragantly violating the law isn’t doing any cause and service.

  4. Kaj (unregistered) on October 18th, 2007 @ 11:05 am

    I’m definitely with Cynthia on this one

  5. Jay Smooth (unregistered) on October 18th, 2007 @ 12:20 pm

    Yeah I don’t think our commentaries are at odds with each other.. and I hope nobody will take my video as a call for “Free TI” rallies, cuz that’s certainly not my intent..

  6. Jay Smooth (unregistered) on October 18th, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

    Also agree with Rasheed, the thing to remember about COINTELPRO is that it was largely based on exploiting internal weaknesses that already existed within the Panthers et al, and sadly we made it all too easy for them.. if they are out to get us, it’s only more reason that we need to focus on keeping our business tight..

  7. james (unregistered) on October 18th, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

    jay, i’m with you. i enjoyed your commentary very much and it was a good perspective.

    i appreciate the work that you and others do.

    my question to you, does it hurt when the kids you work with have idols that glorify the gun-and-drug-dealing culture to look up to?

  8. StarkRavingBlack (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 10:10 am

    Yeah, I don’t understand people who defend T.I., It doesn’t matter if you’re set-up or not. If you take the bait, you’ve committed a crime and I don’t have any sympathy for you.

    T.I. knew better, he already went down once. You only get so many ‘second chances’.

  9. Leah (unregistered) on October 19th, 2007 @ 2:15 pm

    I am so sick of celebrities trying to point the finger in another direction for their own wrong doing. I don’t care if they’re black, white, yellow, purple…whatever color, the simple fact is, they get caught and prosecuted like any non-famous person would who committed the same crime.

    I wish I could read the news just ONE day and not have to listen to the bitching of a spoiled celebrity who couldn’t follow the laws like the majority of the citizens that are making them famous in the first place.

    Paris, Michael, TI, Britney…really, enough already.

  10. Reco (unregistered) on October 25th, 2007 @ 11:02 am

    James, it’s funny because when I first heard of this story I thought about your blog post on Vick.

    A good point I’d like to bring up is, I don’t want to get into a situation where I’m expending too much social capital (not sure that is the right term for this situation) to reactively defend high profile blacks who find themselves in silly situations.

    Here’s what I mean. The feelings that someone is getting picked on because they’re black will never really leave my mind completely, but I don’t want to cry foul too much (or wrongfully) less I be seen as some kind of reactionary race baiter. Isn’t this the criticism of the modern day, always on TV good Reverends (you know who I mean)…

    …And there are other (far more worthy) situations that really do require for people to stand up and cry foul. So, regarding T.I., I’m a fan and I hope he didn’t do anything stupid, but I’m not looking to run out and buy a “Free T.I.” t-shirt.

    But does anyone know where I can pick up a “Save Darfur” t-shirt? Better yet, can anyone point me to a good charity concerning Darfur where I can send some money?

  11. james (unregistered) on October 25th, 2007 @ 2:02 pm

    reco, great comments as always.

    as for darfur, check out

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