Poignant Thoughts on Ferguson & Militarized Police From Art Rapper Open Mike Eagle

“. . . They get to present evidence, they get to make a case that the homicide was justified, and on the other side you have a dead man that can’t defend himself at all.  There’s no story from the dead man.”

Open Mike Eagle, the rapper-philosopher-jokester who coined the term “art rap,” started a podcast called Secret Skin a couple months ago. The show is an effort to “examine what’s really going on behind the face that hip-hop artists put on for the public.” I’ve admittedly only scratched the surface of the “secret radio hour,” but so far it seems smart, witty, multifaceted, and necessary.

In the most recent episode, Mike notes that he’s not feeling particularly “silly” due to the recent controversial ruling in the well-known Michael Brown case in the US. He goes on to make a number of points—centered around race-specific (mis)treatment and the militarization of police officers—that cut to the heart of what many see as an egregious failing on the part of US law enforcement to “protect and serve” the citizenry.

For me, the rest of the episode was, unfortunately (really wanted to hear Mike and milo’s conversation actually), too difficult to understand due to car-background noise, but you can listen to Mike’s reflections on Ferguson, Michael Brown, and police militarization below. I’ve also transcribed his statements if you prefer to read them:

“I’ve been very tuned in to what’s been going on in the states, especially what’s been happening in Ferguson due to the lack of indictment of the policeman that killed Michael Brown.

It’s been interesting out here [in the UK]—one thing that’s been interesting out here is that, uh, the police don’t carry guns. And it’s funny because a buddy of mine keeps mentioning that to me. And it doesn’t even really occur to me even when I look at the police here because I think I assume that they have guns. I think I assume that all police have guns. And I have to really look, and I’m like, wow, I don’t even know what that means for a society. I feel like I’ve been indoctrinated in a system or in a country where, you know, fear of violence has been a psychological motivator for most people to not break the law. So it’s interesting to be in a place where that’s not the case. And it doesn’t seem to be a problem. There’s still a bunch of jerks around here. There’s still soccer hooligans, there’s drunk people, there’s drinking in public in a lot of places. They just don’t seem to feel the need to arm the police.

And that’s a continuing problem in Ferguson where protesting, even if it’s meant to be peaceful, is kind of met with a military force that I believe—you know, I mean, it doesn’t necessarily encourage violent outbursts, but it’s certainly not a sympathetic thing. And I believe that a lot of the outrage that’s happening right now is from people having these emotions—these deep-seated emotions, this pain, this grief—and not really feeling like there’s an outlet. And quite obviously now there is a problem with how the police handle situations with black males. And each incident is starting to increase this feeling, this unrest, within black citizens in this country that is supposed to be about equality and everybody having the same chance to survive and the same chance to succeed. And it becomes apparent with every incident that something is wrong. And a lot of the feedback that a lot of Americans give black Americans when they express this outrage at what seems to be different—not only different treatment but different treatment that results in death—I believe we’re met with an attitude of it’s our fault . . . We’re criminals, just kind of inherently, and we’re bringing these things on ourselves . . . And I think that’s really a difficult way to deal with people’s emotional pain. And I don’t advocate for violence, I don’t advocate for people to loot, I don’t advocate for people to burn down businesses. But I do understand that the outrage must be released in some sense.

And I believe that we would like to have a dialogue—I certainly would like to have a dialogue. I invite anybody to talk to me about what they feel is going on. I’ve tweeted a few things that I didn’t even think were all that incendiary, and they’ve gotten around, and a lot of the responses that I’ve gotten are just very reactionarily emotional, if that makes sense. It’s not—I don’t think these people are thinking their thoughts through. I think a lot of the time they’re repeating talking points. I don’t know where they’re getting them. I don’t know if it’s like a Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck type of situation or something, but it just seems to be repeated talking points of “he was a thug, he was a criminal,” you know . . . a lot of ways of saying he deserved it. A lot of people not choosing to connect with the grief of a family losing a son unjustly, not choosing to connect with the idea of a fellow American being shot dead in the street for a crime that in any due process of law wouldn’t grant an execution sentence—so whether that’s stealing a box of cigars or reaching for a gun or punching a cop . . . there has to be things in place to make it not okay for that policeman to kill. I think it’s very problematic that we end up in these situations where there’s grand juries and there’s juries where on one side there is a system that has shown a lot of times in the past that it will go to great lengths to protect its own—meaning the police—they get to present evidence, they get to make a case that the homicide was justified, and on the other side you have a dead man that can’t defend himself at all.  There’s no story from the dead man.

I just think there’s a lot of conversations that have to happen. I think what would seem to me to be apparent is that in many situations white policeman feel something different when approaching a situation with a black male than they do with maybe people that look different ways. Darren Wilson, I think in his testimony, said that he thought Mike Brown looked like a demon. I think that’s a real problem because he just looked like a black male, he didn’t look like a demon. He didn’t have horns growing out of his head, I don’t think he had the power to make his eyes grow red, or anything supernatural. I think that psychologically if there’s a specter associated with black men, if there’s something that makes them more intimidating-looking, if there’s something that makes white men more intimidated in dealing with black men, that needs to be put on the table. That could be the truth, and that doesn’t justify anything. But if you’re going to arm the police force and give them deadly force, you have to compensate for that somehow, you have to put that on the table because it’s life or death.

I mean, I’m a parent of a black son. A black boy just got murdered recently for playing with a toy gun, and I haven’t seen the video of that. I can’t watch it. As a parent, I just cannot—I can’t watch something like that take place. But from what I’m told of the description, there wasn’t much investigation of the situation done. The police pulled up and saw a young black youth with what they thought was a gun, and they just started opening fire. It turned out to be a child with a toy. There’s—there’s just obvious problems with the way that the police are handling these situations, and like I said, a lot of conversations need to happen, a lot of stuff needs to be put on the forefront. We need to be honest about our emotions on both sides, and we need to have discussions that have some sense of logic in them because I think logic would tell you that these things are happening to black men at an alarming rate. And I think the notion that it’s just all our fault is just very irresponsible. And that’s about where we are with it.”

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Young existential crisis. I make rap music about the void.

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