Rapper Killer Mike and his partner, El-P, of the hip-hop group Run the Jewels just happened to be performing in St. Louis Monday night, taking the stage not long after it was announced that charges would not be filed against Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.
That prompted an impassioned speech by Killer Mike before starting the show (Warning: There is some profanity in the video):
This isn't the first time Killer Mike has spoken out in this matter. In August, the rapper — whose given name is Michael Render — wrote a thoughtful op-ed for Billboard magazine that he said he hoped would serve as a wake-up call to Americans.
Michael Render joined us from the airport in St. Louis to talk about the Ferguson decision, how they'd originally refused to play in St. Louis, and how he's explaining the outcome of the case to his kids.
When did you realize that your show might coincide with the grand jury's decision and did that somehow seem like fate?
It did seem like fate. It was the last show booked on our tour; it was not originally on the tour. When it was first offered, we refused it, and a friend of mine called me personally and just asked me to come out. There's a rapper in St. Louis named TefPoe, who is just an incredible advocate, and I knew that he's a young rapper who needed the support, so based on my friendship with those two people, I agreed to do it. We didn't know the grad jury would be coming back at the same time we were there, but we did know that our music resonated with people, and we needed to be in the market. Fate kind of put everything else together.
Did you ever worry that the show would be called off? And once you realized it wasn't, did you decide then you were going to make your speech?
I was not worried that the show was going to be called off, because I knew that the people of St. Louis were decent enough to come out and rage with us in a respectable way. I was afraid that the city might shut the show down by closing streets, ... but none of that happened. I'd just like to appreciate everybody that came out.
What role do you think artists such as yourself can play in a situation like this?
I think artists have a responsibility to be reflective of their own thoughts and imagination, but also the pulse of where society is. I think that artists can visually express the pain of a civil war, like Picasso did. I think artists have the responsibility to protest drugs decimating the black community, like Basquiat did, and I think that rap is an art born out of social reform. Rap was started by a group of kids that were tired of being gang members. As a rapper, I feel a greater social responsibility than other artists.
In your Billboard article, you wrote from the perspective of being the son of a former police officer. How did that shape your perspective on what happened in Ferguson?
I can understand the fear that cops have for their own safety and with that said, I hyper understand that black men are being made into boogeymonsters in this country. Had that been an 18-year-old white male that argued with a cop, I'm more confident that he would have came out alive.
You're also the father of two sons, and you spoke about being a father last night as well ...
I spoke to both of my sons last night, and I talked to my daughters this morning, and I'm more confused and decimated, because my 7-year-old daughter left a voicemail that she wants to know why the world hates black people. I just can't take it. My father is 50-some-odd years old, and he called me to check on his son, and I'm 39 years old. I'm tired of black fathers having to walk around with this feeling. It's not fair, it's not right.
It feels as if this has been an incredibly emotional experience for you ...
It is. My grandparents raised me, so I grew up with them warning me about the police and telling me the story of Emmett Till, and I was a young man that experienced the Rodney King incident and participated in the riots on the AE campus as a teenager. With that said, I had to talk to my oldest son about police brutality and potentially what could happen, and I just didn't want to be having this conversation with my younger son. And I didn't want to be having this conversation with my younger daughters.
I sympathize greatly with my Jewish friends, who tell me of their grandparents who were involved as victims in the Holocaust. Those are stories of the past and stories that were told so that they could never forget the significance of how far their pain. ... I have friend from Eastern Europe that tell me of the atrocities that they suffered. I have friends from the Middle East that tell me of the atrocities that their forefathers suffered, and I cried, because I'm still having to tell the same Holocaust type stories to my children, the same way that my Jewish grandparents were stopped and made to show IDs and forced to live as though Germany wasn't their country, too.
That's the way we're being treated on the streets, and it's shameful and hurtful that on the same day that Ferguson — that the grand jury decides not to prosecute — we have a 12-year-old boy who's dead in the streets because he carried an Airsoft gun that you could buy at any Wal-Mart. So I don't understand: At what point do we get to say this was a thing of our past that we have defeated? I'm just hoping that in our lifetime I don't have to explain this to another one of my children or grandchildren.