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Remembering the Time Tupac Shakur Sued the Oakland Police for $10 Million

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Tupac Shakur in a still from 'Poetic Justice.'
Tupac Shakur in a still from the 1993 film 'Poetic Justice,' three years before his death. (Columbia Pictures)

In honor of the late rapper’s birthday, Oakland has proclaimed June 16 to be Tupac Shakur Day—a nice, overdue gesture to the years Shakur spent living in Oakland. But the text of the official honor is also missing a key part of Shakur’s history with the city.

Mayoral proclamations are usually forgotten after a few years. What’s not likely to be forgotten is the Oakland Police Department’s jaywalking stop of Tupac Shakur in October 1991, which resulted in Shakur allegedly slammed to the ground and arrested.

That’s because in a rare early case of a rap artist suing the police, Shakur subsequently brought a $10 million civil suit against the OPD for their actions—and in an even rarer conclusion, the suit was settled for a reported $42,000.

The intersection of 17th and Broadway, where Tupac's incident with police is said to have happened.
The intersection of 17th and Broadway, where Tupac’s incident with police is said to have happened.

You can read the full proclamation, which recounts Shakur’s involvement with Oakland hip-hop group Digital Underground, his own solo album sales, and his hit songs. But while Oakland’s police department seems to constantly be in the midst of another scandal, an additional stanza would seem appropriate today:

…and WHEREAS, in our ongoing efforts to better our police force, we remember the ways in which Shakur held our department to a higher standard…


One can dream.

In 1991, Shakur was walking at what’s long been rumored as the intersection of 17th and Broadway in downtown Oakland when he was stopped by officers for jaywalking. What happened next was recounted by Shakur in an interview with hip-hop journalist Davey D:

Davey D: Can talk about your recent encounter with police brutality at the hands of the Oakland PD?

Tupac: We’re letting the law do its job. It’s making its way through the court system. We filed a claim.

Davey D: Recount the incident for those who don’t know.

Tupac: For everyone who doesn’t know, I, an innocent young black male, was walking down the streets of Oakland minding my own business and the police department saw fit for me to be trained or snapped back into my place. So they asked for my ID and sweated me about my name because my name is “Tupac.” My final words to them was “fuck y’all.” Next thing I know I was in a chokehold passing out with cuffs on, headed for jail for resisting arrest. Yes, you heard right—I was arrested for resisting arrest.

Davey D: Where is all this now?

Tupac: We’re in the midst of having a $10 million dollar lawsuit against the Oakland Police Department. If I win and get the money, then the Oakland Police department is going to buy a Boys Home, me a house, my family a house, and a ‘Stop Police Brutality Center’ and other little odd things like that.

Shakur, in the booklet for 'All Eyez on Me.'
Shakur, in the booklet for ‘All Eyez on Me.’ (Interscope Records)

Shakur, the son of the late Black Panther Afeni Shakur, was raised with the importance of community building. His goal to build a boys’ home and center for police brutality is even more laudable considering the rapper was without any secure income: his debut album 2Pacalypse Now wouldn’t be released for another month. But Shakur wanted to give back to Oakland, claiming in interviews after moving to L.A. that “I give all my love to Oakland, if I’ma claim somewhere, I’ma claim Oakland… everything I do, you can give it to Oakland.”

For more historical context, consider that in 1991, the Rodney King jury had yet to acquit four officers involved in the infamous LAPD beating, and Rodney King had yet to be awarded any damages. As for a young black man suing the police department for what most black residents of Oakland at the time could testify was a routine occurrence? In 1991, that was a brazen move; to Shakur, however, it was simply asserting his civil rights.

And especially before smartphone cameras provided quick, reliable evidence in police brutality cases, a $42,000 settlement to a young rapper—whose music would be the subject of an attempted ban by the vice president of the United States for its criticism of police—was groundbreaking.

So, happy Tupac Shakur Day. But while you’re playing “California Love” to celebrate, remember the determined young black man who kept pushing for a better world, kept fighting for his rights, and reminded us all to keep our heads up.

Watch one of Shakur’s greatest interview segments below.

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