Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Justin Cosby's Murder: New Questions

Yesterday I wrote about the murder of Justin Cosby at Harvard University and the impact that it had on Chanequa Campbell, a 21 year old honor student who has been barred from graduating from Harvard pending the outcome of the murder investigation. I received one reply which challenged my assigning to gangsta culture a measure of culpability . I am reprinting below the anonymous reply, along with my answer.

Anonymous wrote, "Your article was generally a good read, and you are generally right about what happened I was in a class with Chenequa in the fall, and as two of a small group Harvard students with some hip-hop flavor, we complemented each others' outfits. Back to the article. You copped out when you started talking about gangster culture and how we should ban it from our homes. If you knew two things about urban crime, you would know that the music is first a product of the environment, and only second a reinforcing factor in said environment. If you take hip-hop out of these communities, a lot of people will have nothing to live for...for me and others, hip-hop is life. To criticize the music is naive and childish, and shies away from the real problems (a hint of your journalistic negligence is evident when you discuss how there are "plenty" of good role models in minority communities). I'm done with you, and if Chenequa sold drugs, it wasn't because she loved hip-hop. It was because she needed the money. Check yourself before you wreck yourself, fool."

I replied as follows.

"I have heard good hip hop that does not fit the negative mold. I am not criticising the genre but the use to which it is put.
Reflecting reality is only one role of art. Art can also step back and attempt to direct and focus. I am not rejecting the medium but the moral message.
There are indeed plenty of professionals as well as people who have turned their lives around. My children turned me on to some very positive hip hop. My personal preference is Reggae and Afro pop. My one artistic criticism of music in the African American community is that music from Africa gets almost no play time. Go on You Tube. Check out Lucky Dube, Kojo Antwi and Ismail Lo. Lucky Dube was powerful. His music has a powerful message that survived his untimely death. Check out the music. Also think about music as an instrument of change rather than simply a mirror. Lucky (May G-d rest his soul) reflected this."

One sentence stood out in the anonymous comment.

I'm done with you, and if Chenequa sold drugs, it wasn't because she loved hip-hop. It was because she needed the money.

At no point did I even mention the possibility of Chenequa Campbell selling drugs. "Anonymous", who claimed to be in her circle of acquaintances raised this hypothetical possibility in his comment.

From here, I want to jump to Ms. Campbell's comments in a conversation with a New York Post reporter as reported yesterday.

"Harvard is doing this to me because I'm black, I'm poor and I'm from Brooklyn."

I shied away from my initial reaction of annoyance at Ms Campbell's remarks and refrained from commenting on the remarks of an anguished young woman.Now I have new questions.

How many Harvard students are using drugs?

How many campus dealers are servicing their appetite for illegal drugs?

Justin Cosby had according to some accounts a large amount of marijuana in his posession when he was shot. According to, "Middlesex District Attorney Gerard T. Leone Jr. said the botched "drug rip" that cost the life of the suspected dealer, Justin Cosby, centered on a pound of marijuana and $1,000 in cash that Jabrai Jordan Copney of New York and two others allegedly came to Cambridge to steal."

If Cosby had a pound of marijuana on him on Harvard property, who did he plan to sell it to? Police have tied Cosby to the drug trade at Harvard. Are they putting the squeeze on Campbell to name others in the drug trade? How many kids at Harvard know who sells weed on the side? Is she one of many who knows who deals? Or is she somehow closer to the action? She deserves to be either cleared or accused quickly in either legal or Harvard administrative venues.

What about the charge of letting outsiders into closed areas of Harvard? How many people at Harvard lent their ID to friends so they could get into closed areas without a hassle? Chanequa Campbell is not accused of lending her student ID to someone accused of murder. What is she accused of?

The murder of Justin Cosby is now a police matter. Anyone on campus deemed to be uncooperative in the investigation should be subject to expulsion. Anyone charged with a crime could certainly be suspended until the matter is resolved end expelled if convicted. And if cleared of any crime they should be permitted to complete their studies and graduate. If Chanequa Campbell is not charged with a crime, if she has not been identified by the police as uncooperative then she should be allowed to graduate with her class. And after this is all over, Harvard University should find out how pervasive drug sales and use are on campus. Whatever opinions professors and students may have about legalising marijuana, Harvard Yard is not an independent country. Its students are obligated to obey America's drug laws.

Chanequa Campbell should be either accused or exonerated in a timely manner. But whatever happens in her educational future, she should choose her friends more carefully. By learning from her mistakes and moving forward, she could serve as a role model to other young people with life challenges, ability and dreams.

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