For Method Man, the sadness and sorrow surrounding Eric Garner's death was unfortunately nothing new. Growing up in Staten Island, the rapper — whose real name is Clifford Smith and is most notably known for being a member of the Wu-Tang Clan — had countless run-ins with police and said in a HuffPost Live interview Wednesday that Garner's death hit close to home, as he had a close friend killed by a policeman.
"I felt the pain, because we had spoke out about a cop that had done that to one of my dear friends I grew up with, Ernest Sayon," he told host Ricky Camilleri. "He was killed by a cop. I'm going to say killed, because he was killed by this cop, Donald Brown, who strangled him. Choked him to death. The same way Eric Garner, death by asphyxiation. Over a firework that he never even threw."
A New York Times article from 1994 details the death of Sayon where the scene is eerily similar to Garner's. And, not shockingly, after months of deliberation a grand jury in Staten Island decided not to file charges against Brown.
"It's not new to us in Staten Island, which is sad," Smith said.
He went on to describe scenes from the city much like any of his neighbors would. In doing so, he painted a picture of how policemen, most of the time not even from the neighborhood they're patrolling, restraining residents from where they could and could not stand or hang out. But Smith was not angry at the whole situation; to him, it was more like old news.
Instead, he went on to say that he knew cops who did live in the neighborhood and who showed respect to citizens and the lives they lived.
"There were a few of them," he said. "They weren't ball-breakers. These are guys that were from the community, who grew up in Staten Island. A lot of times, what people fail to understand is, the cops are just as afraid as we are to be in those areas."
That was also a huge emphasis of Smith's thoughts: the human aspect of it all. Emotions — especially fear — play a part in both sides of these interactions with police. Smith just hopes that the policing of these communities can get to a more respectful place than it at the moment, and has been for decades.
"These things tend to happen. It's human," he said. "If we can just get a human level, and police can stay on a human level with the community, because there are law-abiding citizens in these communities as well as good cops in these communities. If we can just bridge that gap and get those two together ... If we can be treated as human beings in our communities, we wouldn't have any problem with being policed. But as far as protecting and serving, we don't get that part of it."
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