A Los Angeles-based rapper and protester of recent police killings says he fears becoming a target of gang violence because police falsely identified him as a member of the Crips during a recent KTLA 5 news report.
In response to 22-year-old aspiring performer Ceebo Tha Rapper’s video called “F-ck Tha Police“- bearing the same title as a 1988 NWA song – that he had posted in protest of the police shooting death on August 11 of his childhood friend Ezell Ford, the Los Angeles Police Department union issued an “officer safety alert” stating the video is a threat because it calls for “revenge.” But Ceebo said the police calling him a gang member on network television has actually placed him in danger and that while his video was meant as an expression of anger and grief over the killing, no violence was intended.
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Los Angeles Police Protective League president Tyler Izen said in an August 21 interview with KTLA’s Mary Beth McDade, “That’s what they say in their YouTube presentation. They say that they’re friends and associates or members of the East Coast Crips.”
Contrary to what the police union says, Ceebo said he is not a member of any gang.
“They put it on the news that I’m a member of the East Coast Crips,” he said. “I don’t know who has seen that interview. Say I run into a few rival gang members [of the East Coast Crips] in the mall, what would I expect them to do?”
He wants a public apology so he doesn’t have to worry.
A careful inspection of the video reveals Ceebo never used gang-related hand signs, nor was there any mention of a gang in the lyrics or other audio. The only “weapons” displayed were upraised middle fingers. At one point Ceebo simulates firing a handgun with an empty hand, but it’s far less overtly violent than the iconic hip-hop group NWA’s video of a 1988 song with the same title. Ceebo’s video displays young people dressed in various colors, many wearing shirts that say “Save Black Boys” across the front, with the peace symbol standing in for the letter “o.” The lyrics express anguish over recent deaths like those of Ezell Ford and Dante Parker at the hands of police officers and talk about the need to unite. They put their hands up, as has been the motif of protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and throughout the country over the killings of unarmed people like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ford, Omar Abrego and John Crawford.
In an August 28 interview with Truthout, Izen seemed less certain of his initial accusation against Ceebo. “I don’t remember if that was in the video or in the information from the video. That’s the information I had. I don’t remember specifically saying that,” Izen said. “He said he’s not an East Coast Crip gang member, I can’t tell you that he is.”
During the August 21 segment, McDade stated KTLA asked Ceebo to comment, but he declined. She said on-camera he wanted “to speak with his attorney first, and then he’ll talk to us.” But Ceebo told Truthout no one from KTLA ever tried to contact him before the segment about his video was aired.
“That’s the crazy part, what lawyer am I going to speak to? I don’t have one,” he said. “She never reached out to me once. I’m on Twitter and my Twitter has my email; I’m on Facebook; whatever they need to do, they can find me.”
KTLA didn’t respond to a written request for comment.
Ceebo believes the police union wanted to distract people from the fact that the LAPD had up until recently refused to release information on Ford and Abrego’s killings.
“At the end of the day they just needed something to direct the attention to; they were under too much pressure,” he said. “They found something and they made it way bigger than what it was.”
The LAPD quietly released the names of the officers involved in both Ford and Abrego’s deaths in the lull of the Labor Day holiday weekend after the community had clamored for answers.
On August 28, the department updated a press release to state officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas shot Ford to death on August 11. According to the Los Angeles Times, the department identified the officers involved in Abrego’s death as Robert Calderon and Jeff Mares. According to the Times’ reporting, a coroner’s office spokesman said Abrego had a severe concussion and multiple contusions over his face and body. Further tests are pending.
Police had placed a “security hold” on the autopsy reports of both men on August 15, meaning neither report would be released to the public until the holds are lifted. Community outrage in Los Angeles over the Ford and Abrego deaths coincided with civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, after police there shot unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown to death on August 9.
While Ceebo doesn’t deny his song and video portrayed anger over the police killing of his friend, he characterized it as a protest video and exercise of his constitutional rights. “We’re going to express our anger, but not in a violent way,” he said. “But we can go through the system and get these officers convicted; we know we can do that and that’s what we will do.”
On Sunday, during a vigil for Ford, Ceebo created a new video in response to the police department’s accusations. It depicts news footage ramping up fear over the police department’s accusations of Ceebo. It also shows protesters at the vigil either on their knees or standing with their backs to several LAPD officers, asking if they’ll shoot them even though their empty hands are raised over their heads. This time the performers are dressed in white, and Ceebo’s shirt reads “R.I.P.Lil Ez” across the front.
In the meantime, Ceebo wants to see his name cleared. He has been a performance artist since the age of 9, and said he has never incorporated any kind of gang imagery or affiliations in his music. Aside from feeling unsafe, he feels the accusations harm his aspirations.
“I’m a person and I’m trying to pursue a rap career, and I’m actually doing good,” he said. “I would like Tyler Izen and Charlie Beck to get on the media, just the same way they bashed me, to give me a public apology.”