Tupac Shakur's 40th Birthday: Lessons in Police/Community Relationships

Categories: Community

Happy birthday, Pac.
​Today would have been Tupac Shakur's 40th birthday. In the fifteen years since his death, his songs still slap, and his words still reverberate. He remains an enigmatic figure, whose name rings out from street corners to NPR.

Proof of that? Yesterday St. Louis Public Radio began a fascinating series on the police-community relationship in the city. In a section questioning whether distrust toward law enforcement is a police issue or a societal issue, James Clark, the community relations chief for local social services organization Better Family Life, cited an early Tupac interview to support his point that hating police is just part of the socialization of the streets.

"I think Tupac Shakur said it best, 'I rap about not liking police because it's popular,'" Clark told St. Louis Public Radio reporter Julie Bierach. "But then the interviewer asked him, 'Well, Tupac, have you ever had a bad brush with the law?' and he said never."

This sparked our interest, so we asked Clark to expand on his thought. What, we wondered, can Tupac teach us about police-community relations?

Speaking with Daily RFT, Clark asserts that Tupac's anger toward the police was initially born from the attitude of the community that raised him, before subsequent life experiences manifest it further.

"As a child coming up, Tupac took ballet lessons," says Clark. "Tupac took dancing lessons. He was a socially astute young man. He took on the 'Thug Life' character later in life."

Clark points to two events that led to Tupac's eventual Thug Life persona.

The first occurred in October 1991, when Oakland police officers stopped Tupac for jaywalking. He thought this was absurd, so he cursed at them. Then, Pac claimed, they choked him, threw him on the pavement and bashed his head into the ground. He was knocked unconscious and his face was torn up. Shakur later filed a $10 million lawsuit against the department; the case was eventually settled out of court for $42,000. The incident would fuel his music.

A year later, Tupac played the coldblooded and street-wise "Bishop" in the movie Juice. In the spellbinding performance (seriously, watch this scene), Tupac dove into his character's persona and, Clark thinks, never came back out.

"People began to look at him as though he was Bishop," says Clark. "He became Bishop after he did the movie."

The anger that had built up after the beating in Oakland emerged through Bishop and never died down. Gone were the bashful smiles and the giggles. Now it was all bandanas and rough neck swag.

"All of those things collided," says Clark. "He was not a thug, and he pretty much manufactured a thug reality, just like a lot of these young guys today have manufactured a thug reality."

Tupac's case is particularly interesting because it exemplifies the two sides of anger toward police, as presented in the radio piece: Some young people in low-income minority communities don't trust police because of negative first- or secondhand experiences. But others don't trust police because they were socialized as such. In fact, it's possible that Tupac's own socialization played a role -- directly or indirectly -- in his willingness to curse out the cops in the first place, regardless of whether they'd stopped him unjustly.

The problem, Clark suggests, is when the vitriol stems not from reality, but from a preconceived mentality. From "playing Bishop" -- rather than from being assaulted after jaywalking.

"Now the thug life era is over, and we gotta clean up after it," says Clark.

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@bcity why don't you try growing up in the slums and see how bright of an attitude you would have.


No one like crooked ass cops what don't they get about that?


What a fool. Figure yourself out first before you try to figure out someone else.


Tupac was not manufactured how dare you....he lived in brooklyn, Baltimore, Marin city ca, and oakland Ca in the Ghetto.. Sure he was exposed to arts at a young age but he was also exposed to crime and drugs during this transition. He was upset, and rather then jus sell drugs he was smart enough to use his past as fuel to fire back poetically. Just caz you never been in trouble doesn't mean you can't be a thug. It just means your a smart about your shit. 2pac was a smart guy..Remember guys 2pac was only 25 when he died, tupac started bangin and slangin at 17 years old. So I think it's fair to say this Clark guy who wrote this is a dipShit. 17 is young. Yes before that tupac was exposed to arts and sports, most of us were. Stoopid article. Move to Oakland California and it doesn't take long to change. PAC took that shit head ON!!!!

BCity Dealer
BCity Dealer

The hell thug life era is over!  How often does James Clark spend at his institution, on the ground with the people Better Family Life is supposed to help?  Is he blind?

And contrary to a half-and-half, most of the distrust and anti-police sentiment in this country is entirely social, cultural, and peer driven.  I admit there are instances where the police overstep their boundaries and anger towards them is justified, but they are the rare exception, not the rule.  People who distrust the police mostly do so because their families, friends, and direct socioeconomic community have said they should be and creates the us vs. them mentality that these communities thrive on.  They use that antagonism to fuel their justification for why they are disadvantaged, downcast, or disenfranchised.  It creates an antagonist that they can blame for all their misfortunes.

When are people going to wake up and realize that a lot of crime being committed in this country has nothing to do with actual socioeconomic situation and more to do with what a person percieves is their socioeconomic situation.  A person's attitude affects everything, and bad attitudes lead to bad actions.  Society is not to blame here.  Thugs should be held entirely accountable for their actions.

Douche McGee
Douche McGee

James Clark is out of his mind if he thinks the Thug Life era is over - has he seen some of the stories of young guys getting murdered in North City or the video of that girl getting hit with the crow bar?


 "I admit there are instances where the police overstep their boundaries and anger towards them is justified, but they are the rare exception, not the rule."


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