The Common Denominators: Poetry Slams and Police Officers

I love poetry slams. The energy and the emotion – all from the spoken word. The fact that the White House hosted the very first one was awesome. The controversy of inviting Common, a relatively obscure (until now) hip hop artist and lyricist, brought attention to poetry slams. Yay!

FOX has colored Common as a radical rapper advocating the killing of police officers. Surprise, it isn’t true. However, you don’t have to think hard as to why some of us minorities don’t see the police as BFFs. Racial profiling, police brutality, and even murder.

One case that happened here in the Bay Area was the killing of Oscar Grant by a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) police officer on New Year’s Day 2009. He was subdued, lying face down on the ground. The officer proceeded to shoot him in the back, and he died. Of course, he swore up and down he thought he was using his taser. Ugh. The case still makes me sick.

Hadeel Ramadan, a young poet from Oakland performed her piece, “Swine Flu” about the Oscar Grant case. She was featured on HBO’s Brave New Voices, the Superbowl of Poetry Slams. The text of her poem follows the video. Sorry about the quality. HBO didn’t have it on their site. Anyway, it’s powerful stuff. Enjoy!

Hadeel Ramadan ‘Swine Flu’
– Watch more Videos at Vodpod.

swine flu

january 1st
3 a.m.
swine flu
fruitvale bart
& cracked open the levees of an epidemic
we have been fearing
since before
the sickness made Kings perish into the nothingness that is past.
as we carry their bodies
in body bags
strapped with the heat of a thousand suns
see we don’t want the sickness

cuhs these pigs are far more deadly than any swine
holding my breath each time I stroll across police stations
cover my ears
at the sudden sound
of sirens
see their songs
suckle on society like the stained lips
of rape children to their wavering mothers breast
we nurture them despite the fact that we see a shadow of our attackers face in theirs
as if the cure is unattainable
we continue to take and take

allow these nothing more than common people to bear the flesh of the gods on their simple bones
packing heartbeats in their clips
see this isn’t on no overreacting liberal kid spitting left politics bullshit

this is us giving a Grant
to the policeman who had Oscar
execution style on his knees.

you tube videos blaze from my monitor
making corpses resurrect from shallow graves
see Oscar Grant relives his death with each viewing,
as i watched his back crack as if Gaza was in its arch

& all I could remember was a photograph
i came across for the first time in high school
of a Vietnamese man crouched on his knees like a beaten dragon surrendering to mortals

It took all the way until my senior year in high school for me to learn about Hiroshima and Nagasaki

& that they are not just one of the easier genocides to talk about.

For 12 grades of my education each year the only massacre we were ever in depthly introduced to was the holocaust

Because in WW2 the U.S. fought against Germany and Japan

& in order to show the sinister ways of our adversaries
we brought one massacre to the light

& went on to crumble the disintegration of Japanese citizens into the dust we have swept under our patriotic rugs

not realizing that the U.S.A & Germany were only looking at a distorted reflection of each other

We continue to teach our children
To be U.S. Citizens before they are human beings.

Only mourn your people and their allies but disregard the flesh that lies on an enemies bones, see these borders are brainwashing

But the 2nd time I saw this photograph it broke me out of the trance
Because the artist Bansky’s spray can had revolutionized it

to depict
the same man still as a beaten dragon
but no pistol to skull
instead a bouquet of graffiti encrusted roses emerging from
his assassin’s hand
a portrait worthy of bringing new life from ash
recreated insanity into humanity
& I have strived to do the same for Oscar Grant with this very poem
Because we are the artists of the movement,
are trying so hard to bring lost souls back to life,
trying so hard to reshape history
With our paint stained fingertips

But I have learnt to start working on right now
& so I will use these graff battered roses
& place them on the grave of the rape fetus
our society finally decided to abort
because we are DONE, nurturing the genes of our oppressors

will mold together each struggle I have come to know
Find Palestine in every foreign
Counterpart working class back bent 9 to 5 barefooted barely making ends meet
See this is the only way peace can prevail
When the good do something
To stop evil.

From Oscar Grant to Hara Tamiki
& Once we realize are pain is universal that is when we can bring the orbit of divinity back to our world
So our globe no longer has to rest on an axis of evil.

Let the voice of our deceased demi-gods rumble through our vocal chords




& I am starving for your humanity.

16 responses to “The Common Denominators: Poetry Slams and Police Officers

  • Terrance H.


    I don’t know that he “advocates the killing of police officers,” but he certainly implied an advocation with the following lyrics:

    The government’s a g-unit and they might buck young black people/
    Black people in the urban area one/I hold up a peace sign, but I carry a gun.

    He may also have suggested violence against President Bush with these lyrics:

    With that happening, why they messing with Saddam?/Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button

    Frankly, I don’t care one way or the other. I don’t think Common is anything close to a poet. He’s not even in the same universe as Billy Collins and Rita Dove, both of whom attended President Obama’s little shindig. He was invited for one reason and one reason only…and we all know it, so there is no need to say it.

    Reading and/or listening to the “poetry” Common writes (and Ramadan, for that matter) is particularly nauseating. However, that he was invited is not that big of a deal. The “outrage” isn’t real, but political.

    Recall: President George H.W. Bush invited rapper Eazy-E to the White House back in ’91, a man who rapped about carrying a Mac 10 on the side of his hip, shooting police officers, and doing drugs…

    Where were these concerned conservatives then? Nowhere to be found.

    • Spinny Liberal

      Completely fake and political. And ridiculous. Getting an invite from the White House is a frickin’ honor. I’d be like don’t yank my invite or I’ll cry. 🙂

      I didn’t know that about Easy-E. His lyrics were 1000x worse.

  • lobotero

    This is such a made up story… least FOX is getting a bunch of traffic out of it….I think we have bigger problems than the lyrics of a song….

  • lbwoodgate

    Here’s Jon Stewart’s take on the silly complaints from FOX about Common’s appearance at the WH.

    • dcmartin

      As Stewart pointed out, it is easy to paint a picture when you take lyrics out of context and leave out the parts that don’t fit your chosen narrative.
      It’s really a shame when a comedy show does a better job of researching their stories than the media does,….left OR right.

      • Spinny Liberal

        And it was the same comedy show that brought the “rape rape” thing to light. Pathetic. I know why a lot of people who watch the The Daily Show (comedy news) do so instead of regular news outlets.

    • Spinny Liberal

      I saw that lb. Crazy! I loved how they called FOX out on their hypocrisy.

      • lyttleton

        I was living in San Francisco the year that BART shooting happened, I remember how stirred up people were.

        I love how Terrence is quoting the same out of context lines that Fox News quoted and which, as has already been pointed out, the Daily Show completely dismantled.

        I think the most relevant point was the clip of Bush Jr. giving Johnny Cash an award. Fox News lives for their double standards and lack of context.

        Common at the White House? Non-issue.

      • Spinny Liberal

        Yup. That was insanity. The image of him face down, not resisting, and getting shot in the back is burned in my brain.

      • lyttleton

        Yeah, I remember those images, too.

        It was kind of a stark reminder that in any city, there are at least two different worlds and one person’s experience is never the same as another’s.

        Tragic, really.

      • Spinny Liberal

        And you should know about seeing it in any city.

        Completely tragic. And the fact that the officer got 2 years for killing a human being and Michael Vick got 4 years for dog fighting?

        UGH. My blood pressure is going up. 😡

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  • nonnie9999

    just like people started ignoring the boy who cried wolf, those viewers who have not been totally brainwashed will eventually start ignoring the network that constantly cries outrage.

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