Ethan Brown = Down For Life

I first heard of Queens Reigns Supreme by Ethan Brown on Eskay, who will no doubt be remembered a decade from now as the guy who broke black media, had a post dedicated to the book about Queensborough gangsters. Ethan Brown is not only an author, but an intrepid nonfiction journalist whose affinity for hip-hop culture has made him a star in his own right. To chronicle the lives of “Fat Cat” Nichols and Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff is a feat in itself, but to face off against their mythology and the highly secretive federal files/culture is a whole ‘nother animal. Brown is far from a hip-hop sympathizer, and he maintains his journalistic integrity even while delving into worlds that require unwavering loyalty. That notwithstanding, Brown has a G-Pass for years to come. His latest book Snitch makes it clear how much black people have suffered at the whims of the federal sentencing mandates for crack-cocaine possession.

The Supreme Court ruled recently that federal judges applying sentences for crack possession could “use more discretion” (whatever that means in the face of mandatory minimums for five grams of crack) in their decisions. In a way, this ruling comes as an appeasement to the activists who have screamed themselves blue in the face about the racial discrepancy in crack case convictions. Ethan Brown’s investment in this and other causes has vaulted him from crime journalist to injustice expert.

The advance copy of Snitch made such an impression on me that I had to dedicate a post to the man in question. Here is my review.

Hip-hop journalism is a strange term to say the least. The culture – which has grown to startling proportions in the last decade – has many signifiers that now fit neatly with its ethos. Ethan Brown belongs to a special cadre of writers who use hip-hop as a vehicle to explore the “culture of crime” so to speak. His seminal work Queens Reigns Supreme detailed the connection between Queens’s most notorious criminal leaders and the rap figures, like 50 Cent and Irv Gotti, who tie into their legacies. Brown drew the ire of both the law enforcement officials whose records he scoured for his lengthy exposé and the criminal legends that feared he would add a spill of truth to their enormous folkloric stature. Beyond navigating treacherous waters with his novel, he proved that rigorous investigative work often reveals intriguing narrative accounts of misrepresented subcultures.

Snitch offers a necessary perspective of the criminal justice system in light of the recent frenzy concerning the anti-informant, anti-police sentiment given credence in rap music. Known to many as the “Stop Snitching” campaign, urban communities have fired back at crime initiatives that center on coerced testimony and unreliable information. The prosecutorial branch of the law has, to a large extent, shifted to the use of witnesses over solid evidence. Brown specifically broaches the 5K1 law in the book, which offers leniency in the sentencing guidelines for drug-related offenses if defendants offer information about other cases of interest. Although the intent of the law is to encourage low-level dealers to provide information that could collapse drug cartels, it has been the basis for corruption and outright deception. The author argues that senators looking for a magic bullet in the war on drugs have faltered mightily by allowing the 5K1 law to reign over the collection of evidence. Rather than sympathizing with drug offenders or bashing this new trend, Brown examines the ways in which it affects all participants of the legal process from the unjust imprisonment of Euka Wadlington to the mysterious murder of a Baltimore District Attorney by a ruthless drug informant. Aptly titled, the book shows how information meets distortion under the gaze of blind Justice.

You can read more from Ethan Brown at his site or see his appearance on the Season Finale of BET’s American Gangster series (the Supreme episode).


1 Response to “Ethan Brown = Down For Life”

  1. 1 Marco December 12, 2007 at 3:39 pm

    I just saw on the news the other day how tey are going to make those discretionary sentencing guidelines retroacive, so there might be a lot of heads getting out earlier than expected…which is a move in the right direction in my opinion because they are biasd toward crack cocaine.Hopefully a lot of these brothers won’t go back and get caught up in the same trap, that trap being the aim of the system in the first place.

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