Hip-Hop on Trial: The Case of Brandon Woodard

by Kirsten West Savali

Brandon Lincoln Woodard — father, son and friend — is dead. The darling of a successful, affluent African-American family was executed in broad daylight in midtown Manhattan during the height of the holiday season and according to family members, all his distraught mother can ask is, “When is my son coming home?”

But he’s not coming home. He’s not.

Just as Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis didn’t come home, Brandon Woodard will never make it home again.

Of course, the stories are vastly different worlds apart. The horrific crimes above were not organized hits – as is suspected of Woodard’s murder – rather they were acts of hatred committed in a society organized so that the murders of innocent black men and boys go unpunished.

The erosive racism at play here cannot be found within the construct of the crime itself. In the case of Brandon Woodard, the racism emanates from the media as clearly as George Zimmerman spewing the word “coon” on a 911 tape.

Every sketchy detail of Woodard’s past has been shared under salacious headlines. Throw in an accomplished actress with a publicized vendetta against his mother, accusations of mortgage fraud, rap sheets and cocaine use, wrap it all in the word “rapper,” and the thick pot of controversy quickly begins to bubble over into the kind of story that scorches the headlines for weeks as it continues to build up steam.

Yes, it seems that the made for Hollywood plot is fair game for tabloid fodder, but as headline after headline, story after story scavenges for dirt about the so-called “aspiring L.A. rapper” the underlying rationale of his murder seems to be a familiar refrain:

“Oh, well, that explains that. He was a thug.”

The coverage of Woodard’s death continues the trend of vilifying black victims. George Zimmerman’s violent history — and arrest record — was kept under lock and key, while Trayvon’s school suspension and alleged marijuana use became front page news. Former NYPD Officer Richard Haste chased  down 18-year-old Ramarley Graham, illegally kicked his way into his grandmother’s house and murdered him in cold blood; yet the fact that Graham had a bag of weed and a record is considered news, and more importantly, by many it is considered justification.

In each of these instances, racial code words have been sprinkled throughout coverage not meant to examine the magnitude of these deaths, but to minimize them. And as different as the circumstances of each case may be, the perpetuation of the narrative of black men as thugs affiliated with drugs, violence and Hip-Hop culture — as if the three are somehow interchangeable, always finds a way to take center stage.

Brandon Woodard was a college educated man pursuing a law degree when he was gunned down at 31-years-old. He was not Tupac or Biggie. He death does not embody Hip-Hop culture; Hip-Hop culture is not defined by drug deals and murder; and drug deals and murder are not manifestations of the Black experience.

And no matter how much that lie is shoved down our throats, most of us are smarter than that.

While it may be important for authorities to discover Woodard’s past and current associations to better understand who may have wanted him dead, media has no such motivation. By framing this case first around Hip-Hop, then around drugs, many outlets are purposely putting a culture on trial and finding it guilty before the first arguments have even been heard.

And in Los Angeles, like so many cities across the country, a grieving mother waits for a son that is never coming home.

  • AM

    The media vilifies blackness! It’s so painful to read about this young man on Clutch. I’ve not heard his story anywhere else. Yo!

    Kirsten, great to see you here. It’s ALWAYS a pleasure to read your articles!! :) Keep up the good work mama.

  • Billy Paul

    Interesting article; however, allow me to add that the truth campaign that the author is currently engaged in may not bare the desired fruit. Although speaking truth to power may be somewhat therapeutic, it rarely elicits any real change in the recipient without being backed up by tangible power. For example, organizing an economic boycott of an offender may arguably be a more potent solution to encourage compliant behavior (see civil rights movement).

    Carry on, Family.

  • Kacey

    I’m in NYC and when I heard this story I just shrugged without any sympathy because this “darling of a successful, affluent African American family” is reported to have had at least 20 arrests in the last 8 years (including current cocaine charges), is believed to have been working as a drug mule, and is suspected to have been executed by his enemies in the drug trade – all this while supposedly pursing a law degree (riiiight!)

    Let’s call a spade a spade – this wasn’t some good guy who was minding his own business and became a victim of a random crime. He was a criminal himself. He had to know the risks of what he was involved in and he suffered the consequences. Why should we care again? Because he’s black? Um, no!

    Black people need to stop being protectors and apologists of people who are pariahs in our community. He became a statistic because he chose to be. For all the success and affluence of his family, he couldn’t resist the seduction of a street life. That was his choice! Live with it!

  • Beautiful Mic

    Yes, but he’s supposed to be forgiven because he comes from affluence, but if he came from a poor black family, then ‘he got what he deserved’.

  • Moy

    Thank you! This article is exploitative of black people’s emotions and full of $hite. This really grinds my gears.

  • doubledup

    So are you justifying murder? Are there circumstances in which his murder is acceptable and reasonable in your eyes?

    Take for example, if an executive at pharmaceutical company promoted a drug that killed lots of people, say in an African country, to get the right cocktail in order receive approval from the FDA, and as a result made a boatload cash and bonuses on the backs of thousands of test subjects, would an African be justified in walking up to the CEO at killing him in broad daylight?

    There are plenty of criminals in the White House, Pentagon, and on Wall Street, but killing one of them wouldn’t solve anything and I’m sure there would outrage if someone killed one of them.

    I’m just asking what justifies murder?

  • Lola

    African-American family? how about mix race family his wife or mother to his daughter is not black. black women please don’t be stupid and rally for this man let black men or the race of this wife ppl do it.

  • Chillyroad

    There is absolutely nothing unusual about being affluent in school and selling drugs. That’s the face of the drug game that people want to pretend doesn’t exist because there are never any murders or drug convictions of young white men and women have the same profile.

    Remember that movie Traffic? It was a REAL.

  • doubledup

    So are we supposed to not care because he chose to father a mixed raced child? Yet, @Lola would want black men to respect us, to love us without discriminate judgement. No one, I’m thinking, knows this man intimately (not sexually but personally) so I really feel the judgement about the salacious details surrounding this case feeds into exactly what Kirsten is writing about.

    He’s a black man who has been defamed in order to sell a story to the public, creating a imaginary thug, whether affluent or poor, who needs no sympathy because he “had it coming.” What a heartless society we live in!

    Obviously, hits don’t happen to regular folks unless you live in Pakistan or Yemen, where we (The U.S.) target folks who may or may not be terrorists, but that’s a convo for another post.

  • Mo

    Justifies? No. Eplains? Possibly so. There appear to be circumstances in this man’s life that make murder something more LIKELY to happen to him than the average person. I don’t think anyone is saying there is a justification as much as he may have lead a lifestyle that put him in harm’s way.

  • Mo


  • Beautiful Mic

    No one is justifying murder. Hundreds of black men and boys die under the same circumstances each year, but because their families are poor, and not affluent, no media exposure is brought to help seek justice in their cases.

    And when they do get murdered, no one things of them as good guys. So, why should we make an exception, here?

    How much of a good guy are you if you participate in an industry that exploits the misery and suffering of others to profit from?

    What’s so great about that?

  • Kay

    I was a little confused by the article, but I understand what the author is trying to say. I know that In order for the public to feel sympathy for a person’s death, they have to be the “perfect victim.” No rap sheets, no arrests, no drug use, no rumors of alcohol use or abuse, must be employed (preferably white collar) and not be a single mother (a single father is okay if the mother has passed away under tragic circumstances) and it helps to be extremely attractive. And it also helps if a victim is White. A study was done on this and detailed that people don’t want to feel bad about mourning who isn’t “worthy” and race plays heavily into who is considered “worthy.” So if you’re Black and a victim….shoot….well…then you’d better be a saint who saves orphans on the weekends, listens to Brahms, works two full-time jobs while finishing up two master’s degrees, have a clean record, owns a home, is either married or has pledged their purity until marriage (in this case, have no children) and you’d better not have ever been on government assistance. EVER. Even then there’s no guarantee anyone will really care.

    I think someone summed up the feeling many Americans have about Black people who die when Hunger Games came out. He tweeted, “call me racist but when i found out rue was black her death wasn’t as sad #ihatemyself.”

  • Mercy

    As a New Yorker, I was shocked by this news. But, as facts came I realized he probably lived a life where this was more likely to happen to him. Personally, I will not blindly rally around someone just because of skin color.

  • http://gravatar.com/libpatriot GeekMommaRants

    What swims, quacks and has web feet, a duck! A drug dealer from an affluent family is still a bottom feeding criminal. There is no justification for anyone’s murder, however, if one lives by the sword, well then we all know what will happen.

  • http://www.clutchmagazine.com Clutch

    Greetings all:

    Just a little clarification. This article is not so much about Brandon Woodard and his lifestyle or his mother’s lifestyle. It is about the vilification of a man without any evidence. It is about the vilification of an entire culture (Hip-Hop) by using it as coded language to induce panic, some subliminal understanding that this was a bad guy. Brandon Woodard and his alleged lifestyle are on trial — and he’s the one that’s dead.

    Feel about him what you will, but as evidenced by the other examples that I gave. It wouldn’t have mattered if he were a drug dealer or not, he is being used as an example of what the media deems to be the outcome when “Blackness” and “Rap” intersect.

    I might be alone, but I’m not ok with that.

    Thanks for reading,


  • MimiLuvs

    Your comment reminds me of an incident that occurred in my uncle’s store, a few months ago. The family and two friends of a slain man had come into my uncle’s store. They wanted to use an unmarked wall on my uncle’s building for a mural for their dead friend. My uncle said no because this was the same person who was selling drugs in front of his place. Why should this man be held in such regard?

  • Kirsten West Savali

    African Mami! *waves* Hey Lady! Thanks for reading, Sis!

  • Kirsten West Savali

    @Mercy: No one is asking you to blind rally around anything. What is worth rallying around is the use of rap, drugs and blackness as interchangeable puzzle pieces with the final picture being murder. All the criminals on Wall Street and in corporations around this country, do you think it would be ok if they were executed in the middle of Midtown Manhattan? This man was a law student, but that’s not salacious enough, so they call him a rapper. Pay attention to the title. My point is that an entire culture is on trial, not one man.

  • Kirsten West Savali

    @Beautiful Mic: No, he’s not supposed to be forgiven because he’s affluent. It’s a statement of fact, not congratulations.

  • The Other Jess

    oh boy…this article is beyond ridiculous. we’re supposed to sympathize with some man who sold drugs to youth simply because he’s a black man? A man who sold death and destruction to other Black people, but used the money to treat some white woman like a queen? NOT. And he really has no excuse because he comes from affluence and had many opportunities for legitimacy, unlike some poor dude who thinks selling drugs is his only option. This dude got what he deserved. Clutch please. This article is a FAIL on all levels.

  • simplyme

    I completely understand what the author’s saying especially in the case of Trayvon Martin. His marijuana use etc were completely irrelevant to what happened that night… it was all about character defamation.

    But I completely agree with Kacey’s statement that it doesn’t apply here. I don’t get this need to protect Black criminals involved in criminal activity just because they happen to rich or affluent or famous or whatever. His being rich or from a good family doesn’t make him a good person. The nature of the murder suggests that it has something to do with his extensive criminal background. So of course it will be talked about.

  • Chillyroad

    If he was selling cocaine he was selling to his white law school friends. Don’t get it twisted.

  • Lola

    @Chillyroad were you there when he was selling to his white school friends.

  • Beautiful Mic

    No, not simply because he’s black. Because he’s black with a law degree. *eye roll*

  • http://twitter.com/LDVBlog Candace (@LDVBlog)

    This is so sad. When the story broke, I never paid attention to Brandon’s background. Being force fed news by the media automatically leads one to assume that this man was most likely apart of a drug ring or some crime culture. Kudos to you for shedding the light on who Brandon really was.

  • Rue

    The article is messy…if it’s about racial code words, why is it hagiographizing (sp) this man, and not saying “he was flawed, but the media shouldn’t villify him”?

  • Blue

    NYC native so of course I heard this story & they continue to reveal more & more everyday. Sad this sort of thing had to happen. However, if you by the sword, you die by the sword. If you’re going to put out such an article, the least you can do is gather the majority of the “facts” before playing the victim card & using hip-hop as a scape goat.

  • http://beautifulmindtss.wordpress.com beautifulmind

    @ Beautiful Mic, I’m with you. I have mixed emotions about this article. His murder is tragic, undoubtedly. Yet the things that we as a community choose to react and not react to suggest we are de-sensitized to the plight of thosands of Blacks who go out and kill eachother every day. I think we need some Black leaders in the psychology field to really, really, do a evaluation on how we as a culture view ourselves.

  • apple

    what about the kid?.. do you care about the kid? i’m sure the kid had nothing to do with it but i get what you mean. but that poor kid

  • pat

    *erosive racism* or is it corrosive

    Anyway ,so called hip hop culture NEEDS to be on trial…..Its been around a few decades too long. It is poison and NEEDS TO GO AWAY!

    Boy, sometimes I think SOME Black women are crazy and confused…Defending hip hop….but then again this is your favorite music, isnt it Kristen?….no doubt calling yourself a feminist too!

  • apple

    ooooh my body was not ready for this comment sections lol

  • victoria


    Great comment. Many men in my family chose the streets. They live in large homes in affluent neighborhoods. Their mothers have college degrees, work hard and they choose to sell drugs, rob, steal, have multiple oow kids. We discuss this quite frequently in my family b/c when the girls go to college, get BA and MA degrees, there is no money to support them. But as soon as one of the boys/men get arrested there is more then enough for bail, lawyers, etc.
    Like you said he chose his fate.

  • cb

    this is MAJOR backlash for electing President Obama AGAIN…killing black males, shootings all over the place, no where is safe

  • Starla

    The results are in. Clutch readers are not behind supporting a known criminal whose lifestyle led to his demise.

    He had opportunities and access to people many can only dream of, and yet he happily sowed the seeds of death, destruction and pain when he distributed drugs. Even with his numerous convictions and criminal record he was compelled to live the life he wanted, instead of using his talents and resources for a worthy goal. What a wasted life, and what a disgrace to his fmaily name.

    I am quite convinced that even between the tears and sorrow his family may feel, there is also relief.

  • SS25

    If a woman slept around and then she ended up getting raped, the rape would be her fault? Jay-Z sold peddled drugs in his community and now he’s hanging with the president. Yeah he stopped, but the damage is still done and families were hurt in the process. Was Brandon perfect No, but he along with Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis didn’t deserved to be executed.

  • Chillyroad


    Interestingly enough blacks especially younger blacks dont do drugs to the extent that young whites do. Blame the cost of cocaine which is extremely expensive or decades of seeing relatives, neighbours, friends on drugs during the 1980s and 1990s. As a result blacks don’t do those types of recreational drugs. Anecdotally the couple of times ive been offered cocaine they have been by white men. I’ve only gone to white universities and it was normal for these white kids to have tried hard drugs like cocaine, meth, extascy, pills, Mkat, heroine and acid. now how black kids in college do you know who have even heard of these drugs, let alone have tried it?

    I know about these drugs because of my over exposure to white folks since I was a kid.

    Unlike so many blacks and delusional black women my experiences with whites wasn’t just me seeing them on reruns of Dallas.

  • http://gravatar.com/dginki Kim

    A Black man executed him. It’s on tape. No he did not deserve to be killed, but maybe you need to take it up with Black men. They are the ones doing most of the killing of other Black men.

  • doubledup

    @Beautiful Mic

    Please let’s not rewrite history today. There are, maybe not lots but many, poor black children’s cases that gain national attention because of a myriad of reasons. Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant were both poor or from working poor families, but newspapers, as Kirsten pointed out, consistently put out salacious background info to gauge the public’s sympathy for a victim’s transgressive behavior.

    How much of good guy is our President, who participates in our military industrial complex, which kills, by its own admission, innocent people in other countries, possibly destroying family structures and maybe creating young boys who hate America, justifiably — all for profit and “democracy.”

    But do you call President Obama a bad guy? I doubt it. Murder is murder is murder everyday and anywhere.

  • I see

    Cry me a river. When i read this article i think of those mothers who knows that their son is gang banging, but cry and defend him, when he gets killed. I wish death on no one, but the path you choose will decide your faith.

  • http://gravatar.com/libpatriot GeekMommaRants

    No, this is a specific story about a specific drug dealer. If this was a story about an innocent non-drug selling brotha, I’d be right there, this is not. No one painted the Gotti’s as anything but Gotti”s.

  • SS25

    Did I bring race in this? NO!! I know a black man killed him and you totally missed my point.

  • The Bishop

    Huh? Boy they some callous people on this blog.

  • The Bishop

    Huh? There are some very callous and unforgiving people on this blog. He didn’t deserve to die like this period.

  • Rochelle

    Huh? Not Tupac or Biggie? WTH. So what if he was in college. His past seems sketchy.
    I feel sorry for this guy to die like that. But correct me if I am wrong. Wasn’t he a drug dealer. If his family knew about his criminal past, they probably expected this would happen sooner or later.

  • The Bishop

    It seems to me that this man turned his life around. So why are we judging this man based on his past and not what was his present. He completed his bachelors and was working on a law degree. I consider that admirable. Everyone makes mistakes and some of us make multiple mistakes. From what I’m reading none of you would be fans of Malcolm X, because he was a criminal in his early adult life, but look at what he achieved after he turned his life around. The author does have a point, the media does tend to demonize and marginalize African American men in order to fit a specific negative narrative. If you don’t believe me, sit down and watch Bowling for Columbine by Michael Moore which is a documentary that talks about how the media drives fear in America about minority men to drive profits.

  • EST. 1986

    Rape has no place in this discussion.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks


  • victoria

    I dont think anyone is saying he deserved to die. What commentors are saying is that he made the choice to live a destruction lifestyle which too often leads to death. Im sure if you asked every commentor if they preferred he died or changed his ways to become a productive citizen; all commentors will say they wished he would’ve been an asset to society not a part of societal demise. No one wants anyone to be executed, but if you live by the sword you die by the sword.

  • AOA

    Excuse my lack of sympathy… but how is this any different than gang-drug related violence? It’s clear that Woodard was involved with the wrong people. Being shot dead in broad day light is clearly a sign to the people he’s working with. I’m not saying he got what he deserved but if you mess haphazardly with fire, your bound to get burned… really bad.

    Correlating this recent death to those wrongly killed is just-plain-wrong.

  • FinanceIsFacism

    Which media are referring to him this way? I live in midtown manhattan (so I’m pretty exposed to local news sources), but I first learned of this murder through the NYT which described Woodward in its headline as a “law student” and “the scion of a successful family.” The first several paras of the story were about how squeaky clean and affluent and accomplished the Woodwards were — when NYT mentioned almost as an afterthought that he’d been arrested recently for coke possession, I was surprised and confused that the article had gone out of its way to paint such an idyllic picture in the opening paragraphs. Obviously, NYT was overcompensating to avoid precisely these accusations. Woodward attended a crappy law school, to which he transferred after community college. He was no academe. Until this article, though, I had no idea he was an aspiring rapper.

  • SS25

    Every life has meaning, for good or bad. When you start to justify why I or anyone else shouldn’t feel bad that a HUMAN life was lost, well than you’re just a monster!!

  • EST. 1986

    I actually did a google search and there were links to articles where he is described as being an ‘aspiring/upcoming rapper’.

  • Jasmine

    So when a black women is murdered; dehumanize her, blame her for the actions of her murderer, blame guns, the 2nd amendment, domestic violence, and mental illness.

    When a black man is murdered: don’t blame the victim, question the circumstances, assume innocence, play the race card, and include only the most uplifting circumstances of his life to prove that his death was senseless.

    As an expat who relies on clutchmagonline.com to keep me posted on whats good in the USA, I’ve been really disappointed in the reckless way that that this site handles the lives and well being of Black Women. I’ll keep reading in hopes that things will turn around.

  • dawn

    Wow….reading these comments really saddens me.. i guess all these bloggers never did anything wrong in their life. smh..just because he sold drugs dont mean that he’s a menace to society.(Not saying that it’s right) but,WHO ARE WE TO JUDGE..
    Linsey Lohan did everything under the sun plus she is known to be and hang around thugs And She Still Makes Movies. I hope his family dosen’t read this stuff

  • victoria

    I do think if you sell drugs then by definition you are a menace to society.

    You stated, ”..i guess all these bloggers (commentors) never did anything wrong in their life.” Yes, we all have and we all continue to do so. But if we deal with elements of society that are destructive, it should be expected that people we not praise it, but call it what it is…a destructive lifestyle. Dawn, if you have children, I hope you use this as an opportunity to discuss with them how certain decisions will have negative consequences. This is not about judging, but about making it clear that poor decisions have negative consequences..

  • lol

    smh at Dawn, no wonder black folk are at the bottom.

  • TommyG

    So Brandon was in town visiting his sick Grandmother? It is unclear why he was here, and it doesnt sound good soo far.The media is fully aware of the slant of theyre reporting, all they are doing now is reporting the facts. I dont think they are omitting anything?.

  • FinanceIsFacism

    A google search for “brandon woodward rapper” (without quotes) retrieves only the daily mail — a trashy British tabloid on par with the National Enquirier — a couple of small hip hop oriented sites, and this article. Not exactly a general indictment of “the media.”

  • Beautiful Mic

    Absolutely not – just be logical and don’t generalize.

    In this specific case, Woodard was killed because he was an illegal drug courier who underpaid his supplier and was killed as a result.

  • The real chosen people (Blacks)

    @smh at Dawn, no wonder black folk are at the bottom.
    Blacks are on the bottom, due to 400 years of slavery and a lifetime of injustice. who cares about being at the bottom of this world, this is the devils world! When Gods world is ushered in that will change. Read the story of Joseph.

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