Modal close

Dear Democracy Now! visitor,

You turn to Democracy Now! for ad-free news you can trust. Maybe you come for our daily headlines. Maybe you come for in-depth stories that expose corporate and government abuses of power. Democracy Now! brings you crucial reporting like our coverage from the front lines of the standoff at Standing Rock or news about the movements fighting for peace, racial and economic justice, immigrant rights and LGBTQ equality. We produce our daily news hour at a fraction of the budget of a commercial news operation—all without ads, government funding or corporate sponsorship. How is this possible? Only with your support. If every visitor to this site in December gave just $10 we could cover our basic operating costs for 2017. Pretty exciting, right? So, if you've been waiting to make your contribution to Democracy Now!, today is your day. It takes just a couple of minutes to make sure that Democracy Now! is there for you and everybody else in 2017.

Non-commercial news needs your support.

We rely on contributions from you, our viewers and listeners to do our work. If you visit us daily or weekly or even just once a month, now is a great time to make your monthly contribution.

Please do your part today.

Topics

"Stop-and-Frisk": The World According to Questlove

ColumnAugust 15, 2013All Column ⟶

By Amy Goodman with Denis Moynihan

Hip-hop hit a milestone this week, turning 40 years old. The same week, federal district court Judge Shira Scheindlin, in a 195-page ruling, declared the New York City Police Department’s practice of stop-and-frisk unconstitutional. Hip-hop and stop-and-frisk are central aspects of the lives of millions of people, especially black and Latino youths.

Ahmir Thompson was just two years old when hip-hop got its start in 1973, but already had shown his talent for music. Thompson is now known professionally as Questlove, an accomplished musician and producer, music director and drummer for the Grammy Award-winning hip-hop band The Roots, which is the house band on the NBC show "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." He and The Roots soon will move with Fallon to the even more popular "The Tonight Show."

Despite his success, Questlove confronts racism in his daily life. But he has built a platform, a following, which he uses to challenge the status quo — like stop-and-frisk.

"There’s nothing like the first time that a gun is held on you," Questlove told me. He was recalling the first time he was subjected to a stop-and-frisk:

"I was coming home from teen Bible study on a Friday night ... And we were driving home, and then, seconds later, on Washington Avenue in Philly, cops stopped us ... I just remember the protocol. I remember my father telling me, 'If you're ever in this position, you’re to slowly keep your hands up.’"

A quarter of a century later, just a few weeks ago, Questlove was heading home to Manhattan from Brooklyn after a weekly DJ gig. He was pulled over by the NYPD. He told me:

"They walked up, asked to see license and registration. And it was like four of them with flashlights everywhere … They wanted to know, 'Are you in a cab? Is this a cab? Where's your New York taxi license?’ I have my own car, and I have my own driver."

He felt they were treating him like a drug don. He showed them his newly released memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, with its stylized, psychedelic portrait of him on the cover.

"They looked, and they kind of had a meeting for five minutes. And then, it was like, 'Oh, OK, you can go.' But this happens all the time."

As when Questlove was campaigning for Obama with Jurnee Smollett, an actor on the hit vampire show, "True Blood". He had bought a housewarming gift for his manager, and pulled over the car to take a phone call. He described what followed:

"So I pulled over, talked, finished the conversation. Five cars stopped us, and pretty much that was the most humiliating experience, because, we had to get out the car. They made us spread on the car ... [Jurnee’s] like, 'This is unconstitutional! They're not ... this is an illegal search.’"

But search they did. The next night, he and The Roots won another Grammy.

Between 2002 and 2012, the NYPD conducted more than 4.8 million stop-and-frisks. More than 80 percent of those targeted were black or Latino. Judge Sheindlin, in her decision, specifically criticized New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly. Kelly, who is said to be a candidate for Obama’s next secretary of Homeland Security, said: "What I find most disturbing and offensive about this decision is the notion that the NYPD engages in racial profiling."

I asked Questlove, with all he’s accomplished, what he is most proud of, and what he still hopes to do.

"I’m extremely grateful to have survived – literally just survived, because, you know, I’m still wondering: Will anyone in the hip-hop culture ever make it to 65? Will we have our first hip-hop senior citizen?"

The richest country in the world could and should inspire higher hopes than merely surviving. But for Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson and the hip-hop generation he represents, targeted by police policies like stop-and-frisk, it is no surprise. This is America in 2013.

© 2013 Amy Goodman


The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.

Make a donation