In the wake of the events of the tragic shooting and death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, some artists have taken the time to reach out to the people immersed in protest and tear gas. Hip-hop legends J. Cole and Nelly have made their voice known, and now rising hip-hop star Vic Mensa is ready to enter the conversation. Mensa spoke to HuffPost Entertainment about the systemized racism against minorities and the ever-increasing militarization of law enforcement, and how accountability can help us build a better nation.
What has been your initial reaction to everything that has happened in Ferguson over the past week and a half or so?
You know, it’s been hugely publicized on every outlet and it doesn’t seem to have changed or helped the direction of the Ferguson police and the National Guard. The whole thing really just shines an unflattering spotlight on our nation’s systemized racism and oppression of poor black people.
There’s two things that we are seeing here: The first is, as you mentioned, the systemized racism in our nation, and the second is the increased militarization and abuse of power amongst police. We have seen cases of both in a variety of situations, and with everything that has happened in Ferguson, both of them seem to have really come to light together. Especially in regards to the latter, you have been very vocal.
Having a platform, in this day and age, most people, and myself too a lot of times, are programmed to just go to Instagram and see what people are saying about us, or go to Twitter and relish in compliments or make sad faces because of haters or do the ice bucket challenge. There’s so many fucking distractions. When you sit down and really look around at what’s going on, it’s shocking, it’s depressing, but it’s also motivating.
The attitude of law enforcement in America is meant to keep people in their place. It doesn’t come off as genuine. It’s power and power corrupt. It’s been a part of my whole life, you know, being a kid and riding my bike down the street in Chicago on the south side of my neighborhood, I would get stopped and the police would just question me, like, “How you doin'? We saw you yesterday.” I would be like, “No you didn’t,” and they would respond, “Yes we did, you ran from us yesterday. You have a brother? Do you have a twin brother?” That’s the type of shit we would go through, and that’s just when we were younger.
As we got older, these situations that you’re seeing in all of these pictures, these are real situations that people in the major cities face on a daily basis. When we were teenagers, downtown the cops used to get calls about anything, stop people and jump out with their weapons immediately. They’ve got 16-year-old and 17-year-old kids face-down on the ground based off of a phone call that doesn’t have anything to do with us. That’s where I’m coming from. That’s the attitude and the type of situation that leads us to feel the way that we do.
At this point in my life I’m not even saying, “Fuck the police.” That’s not my mantra. The way I feel right now is that the police need to be policed. I’ve been advocating for filming the police because I’m not trying to antagonize, I’m just trying to bring some sort of law enforcement to the law enforcement.
The same way that seeing the flashing lights puts fear in our hearts instantly, you can see with these police in Ferguson, when you put the cellphone and camera on them, and you try to get their badge number and their name, they get scared. They need to be afraid of fucking up just like we are terrified of fucking up because in can go mortifyingly wrong in an instant.
The thing is, though, even when the police do get exposed for what they’ve done wrong, they have a million ways to get around it. They can always make up any story they want to make up, and they will be supported, and they won’t be punished for their crimes. That’s why we need to expose it more and more and more, so it is put so front page, so repeatedly, that people demand the policing of our police.
Being from Chicago, the media highlights the negativity, the killings and the shootings. The things that go on on the other side of all of these situations, these cops are dirty out here. I can tell you from really knowing, these cops are dirty. There are good police, as well, but there’s a whole other side of the police force that is making money, and really facilitating gang and criminal activity, and taking part in it.
It’s so hard for some people to understand all of this -- and it’s not necessarily an excuse -- simply because they grew up in a completely different environment than that or because they have been taught differently and have these ideas so deeply ingrained in them. Do you think that police being filmed at all times will not only help to establish accountability, but help others separate from these situations to truly grasp what is happening?
It’s just documentation. And documentation can show the positive police helping others just as much. They do exist and they should be celebrated if they are as good as the rest of the nation wants to believe. And for those people who grew up in a different situation, they have to understand, as black people in Chicago — I don’t mean to make about a region or race, really, but just as people from inner cities, especially minorities and people of color, we don’t even want to call the police when we need the police. It’s a crazy thought. If I have a problem at home in which I would call the police — I’ve been robbed and all that — I don’t want to call the police because you see the things that happen. People call the police, and they show up and they might shoot you because they thing you’re the robber. That’s a bad feeling, you know?
The disconnect is so wide. I don’t mean to play anyone as the demon of the situation. The position of being the police officer, that’s something I think about a lot. The position of the officer and the juxtaposition of the people and the police is that these police are ordained with this greater authority over everyone around them. That’s the power that corrupts people. I don’t think everyone joins the police force because they hate the communities and they just want to lock people up. That’s not what I think the situation is. That’s why I hate it when the people who don’t understand the predicament try to make it seem so black and white. Like, these people hate the police, and the real reason black-people neighborhoods suffer often is these pictures of these gang members and theses drugs and these arrest statistics. Look, the statistics of drug use in America are not weighed towards black people. The statistics of drug arrests are entirely one-sided. The people that go to jail for the same crime are so predominantly black and hispanic that it’s crazy.
There’s a level of immunity and impunity that is placed along with the role of being a police officer that needs to be removed because in that situation there’s no real law enforcement and betterment of the community that can take place when you have a group of people that think they are better than the people they are supposedly put in place to protect and they don’t feel like the laws apply to them. You shoot an unarmed kid with his hands up and you go on paid leave. And that needs to change.
The reason I’m advocating for filming the police is because I just want everyone to recognize that despite the powers that be, and the way that our nation and our states and our cities are set up to the power away from us, the youth have the power. If we stay focused and we do give a fuck, there are ways we can use this power for change. We have the technology to do this and you see what the documentation is doing. It’s the photographs and the videos that really people around the world feeling just how fucked up it is in Ferguson.
If police are going to say things like, “If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you have nothing to fear,” and that needs to go both ways. To all of those in Ferguson who are protesting and just experiencing this tragic series of events, what message would you send them?
Stay strong. You are the real public defenders. Keep your goal in mind and vocalize your goal. They really have a stage right now. Whether or not their actions are being skewed or if their motivations are being skewed and misrepresented, they have a platform and people are listening. Don’t be gassed in vain. Those people are so brave. The things that they are going through right now … there are tanks and tear gas guns and these are the things the police are using on civilians. This is not an army. it’s not a war, it’s a one-sided war. They’re the real law enforcement. They are taking a stand and saying that they are not going to let this one boil over.
Any other final comments?
If you get pulled over, if you get questioned, pull your phone out and take a video. If you see someone being harassed by the police, take a video of it and share it.
For things to change, the change needs to come from all angles. It’s not just a couple weeks on Twitter. It needs to represented in the whole mind state. It needs to represented in music, entertainment, art, in policy everywhere. The people that point the finger and say that you did this to yourself, they need to go read the laws and understand that legislation is set up to systematically destroy minority inner city communities. They take fathers away and create a cycle. It’s so shortsighted to believe that we are creating our own problem. That this oppression hasn’t been warped and perpetualized for over 100 years.
And it is the fear that perpetuates violence and what needs to be understood by both sides is that violence and aggression doesn’t equate to strength. It doesn’t equate to power, it’s just destructive. Power is only in the constructive, so we all need to move past this fear complex.
In addition to our interview, Vic Mensa spoke about filming the police at Lollapalooza earlier this month. That video, which has not been used anywhere else, can be found below.