Fires burn in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore in the wake of more shootings and assaults on black citizens by police. It’s the same fire that burned during the Watts riots in 1965 and the L.A. riots in 1992.

Once again, protesters take to the streets to demonstrate against crooked cops backed by a broken system. Some of their slogans are more recent (“Black Lives Matter”) than others (“No Justice, No Peace”). One, in particular, rings loudly: “Fuck the police!”

The civil and not-so-civil disobedience of recent months inevitably brings to mind the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. It may appear like ancient history, but 50 years is not a long time. And the police have brutalized people of color far longer than that. Some victims we know by name—Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray—but many more we’ve forgotten or never knew because they didn’t make the nightly news. According to statistics self-reported by law enforcement to the FBI, a white police officer killed a black person in the U.S. almost twice a week between 2005 and 2012.

Back in 1988, Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, co-founder of the controversial rap group N.W.A., didn’t need stats to know what was goin’ on. He knew the time. Born in 1963, he and his family lived through the indignities of “separate but equal” Jim Crow laws.

The next 30-plus years until Eazy’s death in 1995 saw great social upheaval in the United States, with change coming at a rapid and radical rate—and some things staying the same.

War raged in the ’60s, abroad in Vietnam and at home between the status quo and counterculture. The establishment met Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the Black Panther Party with fear and resistance, and the FBI, which also monitored black art and entertainment, targeted them. Many prominent leaders were assassinated or displaced by design.

Music was revolutionized more than once. James Brown’s “Say It Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud” was both spiritual and necessary. Parliament-Funkadelic blasted off into another galaxy in the ’70s, returning to see hip-hop kids turn their parents’ old records into something fresh and magical. Outrageous blaxploitation flicks and vulgar, no-fucks-given comedy records by the likes of Redd Foxx, Blowfly, Dolemite, Richard Pryor, and Cheech & Chong signaled free expression previously unaccepted by the public at large.

In the ’80s, the expanded war on drugs under President Reagan utilized prejudicial laws to hand out prison sentences that were more severe for crack than powder cocaine, the rich man’s high. LAPD Chief Daryl F. Gates’ military-style plan to shut down suspected rock houses was to literally rock them with motorized battering rams. When police destroyed the wrong homes (with women and children inside), he didn’t seem to give a shit. That same arrogance and abuse of power manifested itself in the 1991 beating of black motorist Rodney King, who had led L.A. cops on a high-speed chase. Segregation had been about drawing distinct lines and making sure that nonwhites “knew their place.” So, when people of color disobey the law the consequences are more severe. It’s about sending a message.

N.W.A.’s 1988 song “Fuck tha Police” sent a message back.

It voiced the strong feelings over racial profiling that had festered for ages in the ghetto. It was raw, with some revenge fantasy thrown in, but it was the truth.

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