Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DJ Megatron: The man who died twice

The news itself was disturbing enough: DJ Megatron (Corey McGriff), a well-regarded hip-hop radio personality and a host of BET’s popular "106th & Park" program, was shot to death early Sunday morning, near his home in Staten Island, N.Y. Early indications suggest that McGriff was on his way to a nearby store around 2 a.m. when the incident happened. McGriff, 32, was the father of three children.

Justin Kirkland, his manager, told The Associated Press that his former client “probably had one of the best personalities around, super-positive, happy all the time."

This latest American tragedy stands on its own as another sad commentary on modern life in this nation. But what’s made it even worse in the four days since is the reaction, via the Internet, of everyday people who’ve in many cases leaped to conclusions about the killing, conclusions that say more about the popular speculation in tragedy, and the current of rage loose in the public mood, than anything else.

Within hours of the news of the performer’s death, people across the blogosphere weighed in, most summoning the reflexive anodyne expressions of support for his parents, and his three children. These commenters, writing in The Root and The Huffington Post, among other outlets, veered from judgment to take the wider, human view: We are diminished by this loss. Their mommas raised ‘em right.

But a number of others went in a different direction, using Mega’s death as an opportunity for punitive, moralistic grandstanding about hip-hop culture in general, an opportunity for mean-spirited racial generalizations that the evidence at the crime scene didn’t support.

Jojo1983 weighed in early at The Huffington Post: “I'm not criticizing this man's life. It's unfortunate that he lost his life due to the hip hop culture that glorifies gang banging and violence. I criticize the culture, not the man.”

Mbroo, in a reply, doesn’t buy Jojo’s comment: “Where in this article does it say he lost his life due to the hip hop culture? Considering the cops don't know what happened, how are you even coming up with this ASSsumption? You are stereotyping.”

Jim Hagerman @ HuffPost: “It's more newsworthy when violence DOESN'T break out in the hip hop community, Seriously, it's friggin' ridiculous. And this has nothing to do with race (as convenient and simple-minded it is to play that card), it's about a segment of the music industry that refuses to gets it's own house in order.”

Yourbuffers @ HuffPost: “people always say ‘Sad’ and ‘Sensless’ after it happens, meanwhile they still promote thug lifsyles and ‘ganstas’ as glamourous and promote the pimping, the ultra-tough guy with guns and women and dominence as a valid way to live.”

Bexarpaw @ HuffPost: “What’s really sad is that it is black men killing black people!”

Eric Daniels (in reply): “How do you know the person killed him was black? making a lot of assumptions are we?”

Lonnie Gonsalves, commenting at The Root, called the incident “Another example of us being our own worst enemy, not the ‘white bogey man in sheets’ holding us down.”

Clarke replies: “how in the hell do YOU know WHO killed this man.”

Some people were willfully off-message. Gosner29 @ HuffPost: “Was Corey McGriff's show that bad, that someone would want to shoot him? Can't they just change the station, in New Yawk, that they're listening to? Shooting the talking head seems a bit drastic and over the top, doesn't it?”

Some people made a point of trying to come with compassion, calling for at least some brief retreat from hating to take stock of a life lost too soon.

Tonyjim @ HuffPost: “I really don't get this trolling gibberish. I mean, what's the purpose? Just to annoy people? A man died, and by all accounts he sounds like a decent charitable family man in life and on the radio, and yet this complete disregard to the sensitives of family and friends just to self satisfy your ego, biased views or just plain racism.”

Others were just unhinged. At the New York Daily News, FreedomofSpeech7476 let fly: “DJ Megatron was a 1st class punk and a piece of garbage perp. Rest in hell!”

Jojo1983, again commenting at HuffPost, was typical of those who found a reason to indict hip-hop culture for what happened: “2Pac, Biggie, Jam Master Jay, Proof, Stretch, Dolla, Yaki Kadafi, Dramacydal, Dr. Dre's son, Juvenile's daughter, all murdered. I'm sure I'm missing a few. I'm sorry for having the nerve to think there is something wrong in the hip hop culture.”

Amy Fleischer took issue with that: “What wrong is the U.S.'s zealous over-acceptance of GUNS as a way to appropriate American culture, hip-hop or not.”

◊ ◊ ◊

You get the idea. To go by these and thousands more, the shooting of DJ Megatron has started a kind of open season on hip-hop culture, with intolerance characterized as snarky frankness or a new social pragmatism.

We’re in grim and angry times, and few things could spell that out more clearly than the artichoke American tragedies of DJ Megatron: It's bad enough Corey McGriff had to die by violence on a Sunday morning; but right now the online world is killing him again with a variety of character assassinations. A few days after the shooting, reports surfaced that Mega may have been going to buy marijuana when he was shot. A righteousness reflex kicked in online all over again, with writers trying to make something out of Mega’s last errand — as if it justified his being murdered in the street.

There’s a chilly spirit behind many of these comments, a brutal, bitter reckoning one French philosopher could understand.

“One owes respect to the living,” Voltaire observed. “To the Dead one owes only the truth.”

Getting at the truth of what happened to Corey McGriff on Sunday morning — getting at the truth of the preconceived notions about the color of his skin and the culture he loved — would be the greatest respect we could show him now.

Image credits: DJ Megatron: via The Huffington Post.

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