Must be nice.
In July of 2014, Eric Garner was choked to death in Staten Island by an NYPD police officer who never faced criminal charges. That year my friend, mentor and muse Malcolm Little a.k.a. Malarts crafted a cacophonous, rowdy protest of a beat called “Another Summer”. Disgusted myself, I collaborated with Malcolm to paint a picture with his hip hop instrumental, sampling black voices and music from the 1960s into the 21st century in opposition to the police state.
In 2020, not only is Malcolm no longer with us, but according to a Washington Post database approximately 5,407 people have been shot and killed by police since January 1, 2015. In defense of the increase of lethal force by police, political commentator Heather MacDonald wrote in the Wall Street Journal on June 2, 2020, “However sickening the video of [George] Floyd’s arrest, it isn’t representative of the 375 million annual contacts that police officers have with civilians. A solid body of evidence finds no structural bias in the criminal justice system with regard to arrests, prosecution or sentencing. Crime and suspect behavior, not race, determine most police actions.”
I don’t respond and react to what is written in the Wall Street Journal. Do you ever wonder and imagine what type of people do?
These past four years have seen an organized discreditation of what some consider “academically inspired racial victimology”. Attempts to look at the bigger historical picture of criminal justice in America have been ignored if not dismissed by some politicians and news media. There has been refusal to recognize the trends of oppression are not decades but centuries old, baked into a country born in blood.
My dear white brothers and sisters, no matter how pure your heart’s intentions are, no matter how color blind you are raising your children, you are in a race against time, the pit and the pendulum. There are larger forces at play and many Black Lives at stake. If you are not willing to fight for the equity of black Americans, its indigenous people, all people of color NOW, then WHEN?!? “Sometimes tragedy can change one’s point of view / You say it’s justice until that same gun point at you” Allentown’s King Magnetic rapped in 2015.
These past two weeks, hundreds of thousands of (mostly) millennials & Gen Z took to the streets worldwide in peace and protest and in anger and exhaustion. It has been a stunning moment where the needle has actually been moved for criminal justice reform. Legislation is being considered and passed that has been debated for years. In the streets, the youth discovered that’s just what you’ll find- Just Us.
During it all, news media transformed protests into riots, as if it is impossible to consider these are two separate news events with different actors, motives and outcomes. I’ve seen this movie before: 1992 Los Angeles, 2015 Ferguson, 2016 Baltimore. In the framing of conventional news, images of “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress” have been criminalized, a dangerous act, all the more so during COVID-19.
But if it were not for my daughter Margaret, I may not have experienced another perspective. Mags began to share with me TikTok videos from the frontlines: raw footage, unfiltered emotions of protestors united unequivocally under the banner of Black Lives Matter. In these 20 second video vignettes there is no careful consideration of the “very fine people on both sides”. So many of these videos asserted the awful truth of a police state helmed by a dehumanizing petulant president: this is America.
Seeing these shared clips, reminded me of Malcolm and my “Another Summer” project sitting on the shelf. If you have ever attempted to create art of out of tragedy then you may be aware the process is traumatic, therapeutic, euphoric and appalling all at once. The blues in all its forms- folk, jazz, soul, reggae, disco, house, funk and hip hop- are all triumphantly sad. Like George Carlin quipped, “It's not enough to know which notes to play. You need to know why they need to be played.”
Sometimes these songs are sung to oneself, shared only with the Creator, a negotiation for the cruel inequalities of black life in America. “Another Summer” was, at first, one of those private moments. Putting to bed the project in 2015, Malcolm wrote in an email, “It's more like ‘Another Year’, sad as that is to say.”
But Malcolm always championed the sights and sounds of the youth, his inspiration always drawing from a higher level, connecting generations from the past to our future. I began to conceive of a video for “Another Summer” because there’s nothing I wouldn’t wager to assume Malcolm would not have been directly involved in the protests of our current moment. There was work to be done.
Retitled “A Radical Redistribution” and uncomfortably updated for 2020, I offer this project to white people to nurture their discomfort, to assist in the acknowledgement of the centuries old practices of murder and mayhem by a white supremacist state. These are not only Black men and women dying, they are purportedly our fellow American citizens. Freedom certainly isn’t fucking free for them. If the definition of freedom isn’t for fighting the powers of racism and injustice then what exactly is it then? As I write this tonight, Rayshard Brooks, a black man in Atlanta was shot and killed in an alleged illegal act yesterday. It’s as if every crime is being solved by the death penalty.
Hope you understand, the line being drawn is- excuse me- in black and white. What side are you on? If you truly have a sense of the miscarriage of justice in the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery to name a few then SAY SOMETHING, DO SOMETHING. There are SO MANY WAYS, countless ways; let’s all endorse the smallest gestures to the largest donation. But DO IT and BE PERSISTENT, DON’T LOOK AWAY.
White guilt may be a necessary part of the realization process but please do that with a therapist not your black friend at work. Black people are not here to absolve us from the shame of the country’s past, our lifetime of inaction and definitely not our shirking of our responsibilities as citizens. People of color and all marginalized identities are paying a steep price for white people’s supposed comfort and safety.
Lastly, this video is awful. It is difficult to watch, difficult to make. Such reactions pale to what it might be like to see your son or daughter, father or mother suffer such a fate. Or simply someone who looks like you be killed and assaulted again and again with impunity.
There is nothing about this video to take pride in no matter how well received. I beg the mercy of God and the families and friends of whose last moments of life have been grotesquely captured on the most innovative of technologies. Technologies which have, thus far, done nothing to improve the safety of our citizenry from lethal force police practices. Technologies that additionally aid and abet a criminal justice system which endorses and profits from such tactics at large.
My intention for this work is these Black Lives are not lost in vein. Maybe Malcolm and I will make a kinder and gentler video one day. But until Shiloh comes, fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy and needs feeding.
A Radical Retribution
Music and Concept: MalArts
Samples and Scratches: ARM 18
Video Content: @margalaid04 (IG)
Video Editing: ARM 18
To the Black Lives lost in this video, Rest in Peace:
Michael Brown, Philando Castile, Philando Castile, James Earl Channey, George Floyd, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Breonna Taylor
Credit is due to the following Artists, Leaders and Visionaries:
Boogie Down Productions, James Brown, Bobby Byrd, John Coltrane, Denzel Curry, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (“Malcolm X”), Cypress Hill, De La Soul, Dave Dennis , Ava DuVernay, Michael Eric Dyson, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Killer Mike, KRS ONE, Spike Lee, NWA, Richard Pryor, Public Enemy, Q-Tip, Thomas “TNT” Todd
For the inspiration, TikTok, you don’t stop:
@itsmariettaa, @itzkay.k, @kareemrahma, @kiara.customz, @lillsofaa, @marrrrrrrrrri, @michelle_but_not_obama, @morganpawlowskii, @mikaylarez, @officialmacrose, @philiphurstmedia, @sarabarabobarabanannafan, @segyrella, @steviemackey. @suitcasepocket, @thehighlyeducated, @trevordennis_, @weneedpeace, @whitepeopledeservetodie6, @whoisaleckson, @wtfricky, @_wig_
Material was used from the following Usual Suspects:
ABC News, Associated Press, Bloomberg News, CBS Evening News, Channel 4 News, Columbus Education Association, Comedy Central, CNN, The Daily News, The Daily Show, Fox News, France 24, Global News, Hill.TV, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, NBC Houston, NBC Miami, NBC News, The New York Times, NowThis, The Sacramento Bee, Smithsonian Channel, The Telegraph, Time, Yahoo! Finance, YouTube
Many other photographers, videographers and raw footage was used and likely not credited appropriately, for instance, Portlandrone.com, Insaaf Blog and @larryalldayvid. My bad, we are in the fog of war. You are appreciated. Shout out to independent photojournalist, Tim Druck of Indigo Photography of Louisville, KY whose his unwavering commitment to anti-racism on ground and online spurned this project on.