In 1993, Tupac Shakur’s legend as an outspoken critic of police brutality in the black community was beginning to grow. Two years earlier, he had taken on the Oakland Police Department, suing the agency after he alleged officers attacked and beat him for jaywalking.
It was in this atmosphere that Shakur made a fateful decision that simultaneously made him the most hated and most beloved figure in early 90’s hip hop: He shot two drunk, off-duty police officers for harassing a black driver.
Of course, there are two sides to every story; one depicts Tupac as a hero that night, the other as a dangerous thug.
According to the two suburban officers, who were also brothers — Mark and Scott Whitwell, a car that Tupac was riding in nearly hit them and their wives as they crossed the street on foot. The officers say an argument broke out with Tupac’s car as well as a second car that soon joined.
At some point, they alleged that Tupac pulled a gun and, as they were running away, shot both: One in the abdomen, the other in the buttocks.
Tupac’s version of the story is decidedly different. He stated that the officers pulled their guns first and that he shot in self defense.
Tupac was charged with two counts of aggravated assault and on Nov. 2 was released on $55,059 bond.
Ultimately, the courts sided with Tupac. According to a New Yorker article, The Takedown of Tupac, “the charges were dropped when it emerged that the policemen had been drinking and had initiated the incident, and when the prosecution’s own witness testified that the gun one of the officers threatened Tupac with had been seized in a drug bust and then stolen from an evidence locker.”
Unfortunately, this may have been the event that made Tupac Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of law enforcement.
In the same article, family friend, Mutulu Shakur, feels this was the beginning of the end for the rapper, “…when Tupac stands up to a white cop, shoots it out, wins the battle, gets cut free, and continues to say the things he’s been saying — the decision to destroy his credibility is clear.”
In approximately two weeks after the Atlanta shooting, Tupac was accused, and later jailed, for sexual assault.
Of course, we now know the spiral downward his life would eventually take: Being released from jail after signing with Death Row, the dark turn his music would eventually take, the multiple feuds with other artists (some former friends), and his ultimate death by shooting in Las Vegas, a crime which sadly remains unsolved to this day.
Whether the Atlanta shooting was the catalyst for this is debatable. What is sure is that those shots cemented Tupac’s legend as a militant fighter of oppression, while echoing throughout time, sounding as clear today and in today’s climate as they did that night.