Music Mix: April 29, 2008.

Sierra Leone Flag Sierra Leone Seal

In honor of the 47th anniversary of Sierra Leone’s independence, we’ve got a special all–Sierra Leonean mix today.

The opening track, “Black Loyalist,” is performed by up-and-coming Sierra Leonean reggae star Shabaka, who—for those of you in the DC area—will be performing at Zanzibar on the Waterfront on Saturday, May 2 (that’s this coming Saturday). You can check out the “Black Loyalist” video in the videos section of the blog (right-hand column).

As always, you can listen online or download the mix and listen later.

The full playlist should be up tomorrow.

 

Wesley Snipes, What the Hell Were You Thinking?!

Wesley Snipes leaving courthouse after his felony acquittal in February, 2008.

Yesterday, actor Wesley Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion. It turns out the star of such films as Blade and White Men Can’t Jump failed to file income tax returns, which left the federal government none too happy. Back in February, Wesley Snipes was acquitted of the most serious charges he was facing but the misdemeanor charges stuck:

Mr. Snipes was found not guilty on two felony charges of fraud and conspiracy. He was also acquitted on three misdemeanor charges of failing to file tax returns or to pay taxes, but was convicted on three others. He faces up to three years in prison.”

While I’m appalled that another Black celebrity is headed for the slammer, I can’t help but wonder what the hell Wesley Snipes was thinking! I mean, it’s not like he just decided to not pay his federal income tax because he was broke. His 22-year acting career alone has netted him $103 million. Now, I know this doesn’t make Wesley the richest man in Hollywood—not by a stretch—but it does put him firmly in the not-too-broke-to-pay-taxes camp.

Over the course of the “research” that went into this post—which basically entailed watching the Blade trilogy—I discovered that Wesley Snipes was not just a best-selling actor, he was also a “tax evader.” Tax evader? Isn’t that what crazy White people who don’t want to pay taxes call themselves? Apparently Wesley Snipes actually had people who advised him to not pay his federal income tax. Now I don’t know what planet Wesley Snipes lives on but on planet Reality, a Black man doesn’t have to do much to get locked up by the government. In fact, they’re practically locking up Black men just to keep the prisons full. So here comes Wesley Snipes who—even by Black people’s standards—is pretty f*cking Black and what does he do?! He decides he’s not going to pay his federal taxes. What, he didn’t expect the feds to get upset and come after their money?

Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s some validity to the tax evaders’ arguments. I for one wish more of my tax dollars went towards providing a world-class education for American kids. Or perhaps affordable and accessible healthcare. Do I get any of these things? No, but I do get plenty of bombs and dead Iraqis—all of whom have relatives and friends who will not forget who killed them, but that’s a conversation for another post. Either way, that’s not exactly what I would call a fair trade but what can I do? I’m just one man. On the whole, though, I appreciate the courage of these crazy White people who tell the government “You can’t use my tax money to do stuff I disapprove of.”

There are, however, a couple of fundamental differences between the average tax evader and Wesley Snipes. First off, the average tax evader is not rich and does not owe the feds 2.7 million dollars. With that kind of dough in the balance, the government’s not going to go easy on you. Second, the average tax evader is White and everyone knows it’s a lot harder for White people to wind up in prison. Consider this. Most of the White people in prison are there for murder, rape, running meth labs, or some other pretty serious offense.* Most of the Black people in prison, however, are there for having a joint or crossing when the sign read “Don’t Cross.” Just last month, two White strippers—nicknamed the “Barbie Bandits“—were arrested in Atlanta for their role in a bank heist that netted them almost $11,000. One was sentenced to ten years’ probation while the other got only two years behind bars. Their two accomplices, both Black men, got five- and ten-year sentences respectively. All four were found in possession of illegal drugs, but the two male accomplices were on probation for prior run-ins with the law.

So really, was anyone surprised by the verdict in the Barbie Bandit case? I mean, locking up White people for bank robbery—let’s not forget drug possession—is so un-American. Black guys who break the law, however, belong only behind bars. For a long time. Remember the sentencing disparity for possession of powder cocaine versus crack? As the result of a 1988 law, possession of five grams of crack cocaine would net you a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. But the same law said you needed 500 grams—almost a pound—of powder coke to get the same five-year sentence. So, if crack is more prevalent in the Black community and powder cocaine is more commonly used by affluent White people . . . do the math.

With all this racism and unequal treatment of Black men at the hands of the justice system, I have to ask again: What the hell was Wesley Snipes thinking? Not much, apparently. It turns out he’s a bit of a nutter. According to a February New York Times article, Wesley Snipes—after he was indicted—“sent the government a series of rambling letters describing his tax theories and warning that ‘pursuit of such a high-profile target will open the door to your increased collateral risk.’” Huh!? Sounds like someone’s starred in one too many action movies. It also turns out that Wesley Snipes and his two co-defendants—both of whom got stiffer sentences—were affiliated with Guiding Light of God Ministries, which prosecutors described as an illegal tax-evasion scheme.

Sadly, it looks like Wesley Snipes is just another in a long line of Black celebrities who’ve been charged with serious crimes. And he’s in there with some heavy hitters: Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, James Brown, Mike Tyson, OJ, Marion Jones, I could go on and on. It almost seems like as soon as a Black person becomes famous, a “prison countdown” is started and it’s only a matter of time before you’re facing some serious time in the big house.

There might, however, be a silver lining in all of this. As demonstrated by OJ, wealth trumps skin color so even if Wesley Snipes does end up behind bars, it’ll be at a cushy minimum-security prison.

*I made this up.

Music Mix: April 21, 2008.

I haven’t done one of these in a good long while.

As always, you can listen online or download the file and listen later.

No prizes for guessing the theme of this mix.

The playlist is below. Tracks without artist names are:

“Legalize It” by Peter Tosh

“African Herbsman” by Bob Marley and the Wailers

“Pimpa’s Paradise” by Damian Marley

Playlist

Question: When is a Massage Parlor not a Massage Parlor?

Answer: When the massages come with a happy ending.

According to the Washington Post, many DC-area businesses that advertise themselves in the newspaper’s Sports section as massage parlors are fronts for prostitution. Often, the “masseuses” are coerced or forced into prostitution by organized criminal sex rings who smuggle the women into the US and then pimp them out in order to “pay off” thousands of dollars in “fees” owed to the smuggling/sex ring.

Here’s an excerpt from an article by Deborah Howell calling on the Post to drop the massage parlor ads:

My inquiries into The Post’s acceptance of these ads began after a Page 1 story on Dec. 15 by Laura Blumenfeld caught my eye. Her story started in a local Korean-run massage parlor, where she talked to both the manager of the club and one of the “johns” who come there for sex. For years, stories in The Post and other newspapers have pointed out that massage parlors are often thinly disguised houses of prostitution. 

Her story told about a national campaign against prostitution by a bipartisan coalition of political, religious, nonprofit and law enforcement groups that successfully pushed for legislation granting state and local police agencies funds to investigate and prosecute brothel owners, pimps and their customers. Their campaign is particularly aimed at stopping the abuse of women who have been coerced by pimps or smugglers.”

Howell cites another Post story by Allan Lengell:

Federal agents broke up a sex-slave trafficking ring along the East Coast that coerced Korean women into working as prostitutes in massage parlors and spas, some in upscale Washington neighborhoods such as Cleveland Park and Glover Park, authorities announced yesterday.

Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI arrested 31 people Tuesday, including 19 in New York and four in the District. They also raided 18 businesses, including one in Baltimore and five in Washington, three of them downtown. 
 
In all, 23 Korean women in Washington and 44 in New York, Baltimore, New Haven, Conn., and Philadelphia were rounded up and interviewed to determine whether they were involuntarily part of the ring that forced some women into prostitution to pay off tens of thousands of dollars in fees for being smuggled into the United States, authorities said.”

Guys, next time you feel the irrestible need to get an overpriced hand job (or more), take a moment to think about who is going to satisfy that need for you. Chances are she’s a victim of human trafficking forced into prostitution by unscrupulous and brutal criminals who “break” women by drugging, beating, starving, and gang raping them.

Hopefully this realization will make you think twice before deciding to support this violent and exploitative business.

The Dark Side of Realizing the Future We Imagine.

moreau.jpg 

It’s not often someone says something that stays in my head for longer than five minutes, let alone five years. But one conversation has beaten the odds and stayed with me for the better part of a decade.

A friend of mine had come back to DC from Chicago and shared with me a funny experience she’d had at O’Hare Airport. Because of her thespian tendencies, she happens to be the proud owner of an impressive collection of wigs. On this particular trip, she was wearing  a bob wig, a one-piece jumpsuit, and platform boots. As she stood on the moving walkway listening to the soothing female voice giving directions over the public announcement system, she suddenly felt like a character in one of those 1960s science fiction movies, with her bob hairstyle, jumpsuit, and boots. Then it hit her. She realized that we are capable of realizing only the future we imagine. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that bob haircuts, jumpsuits, moving walkways, and soothing female voices on the PA system were the stuff of science fiction movies.

Her anecdote stayed with me, probably because deep down, I agreed with my friend. From moon landings to space stations and nano-machines, it seems that much of what was once science fiction is now science reality. But these developments have not been without a dark side. From hyper-destructive atomic bombs to new viral strains for biological weapons, scientific advances have come at a tremendous price to humanity. It seems that if a new invention has any destructive potential, there will always be those who seek it out and exploit it to its fullest potential.

So it was with more than a passing interest that I read today in the Guardian that British scientists have created the first human-animal embryo. The scientists hope to use stem cells generated from experiments like theirs to develop cures for conditions like Parkinson’s Disease and motor neurone disease. Normally, I applaud scientific advances. Every time science fiction becomes science reality, I hope that the new discovery will help make this world a better place. Lately though, I’m beginning to lose faith in the ability of scientific advances to improve the human condition. In fact, I’m now convinced that much scientific “progress” has resulted in tremendous human suffering. 

In 1896, science-fiction writer H.G. Wells published The Island of Dr. Moreau, a dark tale about “a doctor who plays an evil God and cruelly creates monstrosities of living creatures.” I’m hoping agaist hope that the success of these British scientists doesn’t bring us closer to the day when Wells’ fiction becomes reality.

After all, we have a very poor track record of realizing a positive future for ourselves.