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Hip Hop and the American Constitution Lectures Focus on Prison Industrial Complex and Community Loyalty

January 27, 2012

Professor andre douglas pond cummings of the West Virginia University College of Law presented a lecture, “All Eyes on Me: Hip Hop, Mass Incarceration and the Prison Industrial Complex,” at the law school on Jan. 26.

The War on Drugs, as practiced, creates “perverse incentives” for police to terrorize citizens in minority communities, cummings said during a visit that was part of the Hip Hop and the American Constitution lecture series and course created by Professor Donald Tibbs.

The War on Drugs policies launched in the 1970s give police incentives to arrest African American and Latino citizens on drug charges while supporting profit-seeking operators of private prisons, cummings said.

A former associate with Kirkland and Ellis, cummings said he was exposed to injustices in the criminal justice system both by listening to hip hop music and by observing his own interactions with police when volunteering with teens in a poor Chicago neighborhood.

The remarks cummings gave were interspersed with video clips by performers like Lil Wayne and KRS-One, who offer a catalog of pitfalls that face young African American men in urban communities.

The lecture was the second in a series that is part of a course Tibbs launched in collaboration with cummings.  Students in both professors' classes hear the lectures through a video link-up. The lectures given at the Earle Mack School of Law are broadcast live to cummings' classroom in Morgantown, W.Va.

The course and lecture series are the first of their kind at any law school.

Professor Bret Asbury led off the series on Jan. 19 with a presentation of his paper, “Anti-Snitching Norms and Community Loyalty,” which was published in the Oregon Law Review in 2011.

A firestorm that erupted in the last decade over lyrics urging non-cooperation with police ignored the acute risks awaiting informants as well as the widespread perception in minority communities that law enforcement officials cannot be trusted, Asbury said.

“All of us are bound by many, many loyalties,” Asbury said, adding that problems will inevitably emerge when these come into conflict.