Society and Culture

The Brown Identity

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In news that shocked no one, early Sunday morning at the W Hotel in Washington, DC, singer, dancer, and all-around simpleton Chris Brown was arrested for allegedly assaulting an individual. The story goes that Brown and his bodyguard [who has to be the worst bodyguard in the world] assaulted a fan who merely wanted to get a photo with the performer. At this point, I’d like to make a ruling here as regards best practices when it comes to fans wanting to get a photo. We get it, celebrities aren’t perfect, they sometimes don’t want to be role models, and often just want to be left alone and would rather not take 10 minutes out of their busy schedule while you choose the best filter for your Instagram photo of them. However, it’s probably not the best to break the nose of a fan. Just, you know, as a general rule.

Brown was initially charged with felony assault. When the charge was reduced to a misdemeanor, Brown was released from jail. The latest development is that he had checked himself into rehab. Naturally, representatives of his say “[h]e just decided he wanted to take some time off and do some introspection.” Personally, I know that whenever I assault someone for seemingly no reason, my first impulse is to jet off to Malibu, play some Playstation, maybe read a Danielle Steel novel, and just look inward.

This could easily become a post about bashing Chris Brown. Trust me, that would be too easy. Brown is currently serving a four-year probation term for assaulting singer Rihanna. It would be easy to say that this young celeb has serious issues, that he is clearly a terrible person, and deserves the book to be thrown at him. But I’m not going to say that. What I will highlight is the fact that because Mr. Brown is famous, this new example of the Justice system favoring those it ought not favor, saddens me as much, if not more, than when the Justice system disfavors someone it should not disfavor.

What truly bothers me about this story is just how many chances Chris Brown, and just about any other rich person, gets in the criminal justice system. Entertain this hypothetical for a moment. Take away the fame and money from Chris Brown. Let us pretend he is just another Black male in his twenties arrested for assault in the District of Columbia. Now let’s ask ourselves, would the charge have been reduced to a misdemeanor the way it was. What is more likely is that Brown would just be another nameless, faceless defendant in the near-cattle call that is the criminal court of so many of our metropolitan cities.

I would argue that celebrities, and particularly Black celebrities, should be uniquely aware of the choices they make and how they are viewed by the general public. Chris Brown seems to assault people with near impunity. The very fact that he has the option to fly off to some idyllic getaway for “introspection” betrays a privilege that is so far out of reach to other young Black males as to be unimaginable. I have seen the cross-section of DC’s humanity that is a Monday morning at the H. Carl Moultrie I Courthouse. I can tell you that the legions of Black faces, whether defendants or relatives thereof, would give everything they have to get the second chances that Mr. Brown seems to have been the beneficiary of. But for them, their first strike often leads to funneling them into a system that largely looks at them as irredeemable and only suitable for control and housing in some juvenile, or God-forbid adult, correctional facility.

It would seem that if you can dance, or sing, or are in movies, both the general public and the justice system give you tons more chances than if you have none of these traits. This systemic hypocrisy is only made worse by the fact that it is not even applied consistently among all famous people of color. Michael Vick lost his spot on the Atlanta Falcons and years of his life because he sanctioned dog fighting. OJ Simpson was no different, though his attempt to write a “hypothetical” book about how he would have actually killed Nicole Brown Simpson gets an A plus for absolute lack of tact. It seems it depends on the category of celebrity that you are, when it comes to determining whether one should get the court’s, and society’s, indulgence.

Therein lies the rub for millions of other Black males who don’t get the public’s support. The Superior Court here in DC was flooded was supporters on Brown’s side. Singer Trey Songs even showed up to support. But I ask why should celebrities be any different? There are some that  say that persons with a high profile should have the book thrown at them. I am not one of those. All I ask is that the celebrity be given the same treatment of any other person in that same situation. No more, no less. I don’t think modern law schools still teach that Justice is blind, but it certainly shouldn’t be the case that Justice is starstruck.

I know for a fact that every other twenty-something African American male walking into urban courthouses around the country wishes he could get the second, third, and often fourth, chances that Chris Brown and his ilk seem to feel entitled to. Alas, if only young Tyrone from Minnesota Avenue, or Malik from Barry Farms here in DC could have a hit single. Then they might be able to escape the incarceration pipeline that takes so many of our brothers leaving them functionally-incapable of leading productive lives on the other side.


Featured image courtesy of [Eva Rinaldi via Flickr]

Dominic Jones
Dominic Jones is originally from Atlantic City, NJ. He attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga. followed by law school at the Washington College of Law at American University in Washington, DC. In his spare time he enjoys art, photography, and documentary films. Contact Dominic at



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