WASHINGTON -- As the roll call of police killings of unarmed black people has grown over the last year, public outrage has split into two, seemingly opposite sides. Some have stood in solidarity with the black lives lost, while others pledged their allegiance to the police officers performing an incredibly tough job. It often looks as if there's no middle ground.
But Shaun Morgan, frontman for the South African band Seether, believes it's possible to see more than one point of view -- even in these terrible situations.
Morgan and video director Sherif Higazy have teamed up to introduce “Nobody Praying for Me,” a new interactive video that provides participants with five clickable viewpoints on the day that the fictional Jake Young is gunned down by a cop.
The circumstances are intensely familiar. Young is a regular black teenager who, a la "Fruitvale Station," moves through an average Tuesday until he and his friends are mistaken as suspects in a robbery. Other vantage points capture Officer Holloway, who ends up killing Young, on his daily beat; the stark contrast between liberal and conservative media coverage of the death; and cell phone video of the incident from a bystander.
HuffPost talked with Morgan, who grew up in Pretoria, South Africa, during the apartheid era, about the new project. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What will this interactive add to the police brutality narrative?
Violent crime is obviously part of our everyday lives, and it’s unfortunate. But I wonder how often we choose to look deeper to why a person acted violently. I hope this video can spark a debate and get to news channels, where we can speak about it on that level, to make it more than just a band making a video trying to make a statement. And even if just 10 percent of the people who watch the video come away with something, and go out and try to alter their perceptions or behavior or alter their prejudices -- which is very difficult to do because prejudices are so deep-rooted -- it would be amazing. We’re trying to do something that’s meaningful, and all it takes sometimes is one person to effect change.
Do you think this project will humanize cops and victims alike?
Our goal was to humanize both cops and victims. I think that we have to be sympathetic and judgmental of both of them. We are trying to show that while the policeman overreacted and he was unjustified in his actions, ultimately, however, you are sympathetic to the fact that it’s not necessarily his fault because that’s all he knows. The kid should not have reached into his pocket with his back turned to him -- that’s passive-aggressive action. ... That’s the point. As a cop, you don’t know -- and if you take the time to wait [to] find out, you might be dead. There are always two sides to the story.
On the other hand, the cop is already judging these kids based on their skin color, and that’s because of what he’s been taught by the media. Again, that’s our point. Before you make any snap decisions, you should look at the whole picture and then make the decision.
Ultimately, we should be sympathetic to the kid who died in the video. However, it’s important that there is a dialogue where you go, "Hey, that cop looked like he was terrified, and hey, how would I have acted if I were him?"
What does this project say about policing?
In the video, the cop made a mistake but, by the same token, it’s ... because of how we’ve been brought up and how we’ve been told that a black kid with a hoodie, for example, is a bad kid. The nature of the cop’s job is such that he has to make quick judgment calls, and the fastest way to do that is to fall back on stereotypes. So really the whole point is to try and shift the way we look at things and to not always leap to our preconceived conclusions, which are mostly racially biased and profile-based. Because, honestly, that’s what we get fed all the time. Like if you get on a plane and there’s a Muslim fellow on the plane, everyone looks at him like he’s a bad guy. He’s not a bad guy just because his faith has been represented as being a bad faith to follow. I’ve been guilty of that, too.
As a police officer, you live in this constant fear scenario, where you don’t know what to expect so you always fall back on what you’ve been taught as far as a racial or a visual profile. That’s very unfortunate, and it’s getting worse and worse instead of better. Unless we start to act and reach out and change that, then it’s never going to -- it’s going to just become a downward spiral, and we are going to see a lot more of this kind of violence.
I noticed that the white cop shot Jake, but the black cop called "gun." Was that intentional? If so, why did you set it up like that?
Yes and no. Just like in the case of Freddie Gray, black police officers used just as much brutality as the white cops. So I think these are two different issues -- racism and police brutality. In our video, having the white cop shoot the innocent black kid makes the viewer think he is racially profiling [the kid], but his black counterpart was the one yelling "gun." So we really don’t know who to blame in this scenario.
There was also almost no time between the "gun" call and the shot. Was that intentional as well?
Yeah, it was intentional. We were setting the cops up to be trigger-happy and shooting the alleged suspect without any valid evidence [he was] carrying a weapon. This is too common an occurrence in policing, and we wanted to highlight this in the story.
Lastly, the difference in media coverage -- liberal vs. conservative -- is noticeable in the project and in real life. Why did you decide to highlight both angles?
I wanted to make a point, especially now when you hear about another shooting every week and it’s portrayed differently on Fox or MSNBC. ... Our goal is for people to educate themselves and make an informed decision on their own, rather than being told by any [media outlet] saying, "This is what you should be thinking. This is what is right." I think governments have too much power and the media has too much power, and I think they fear our thoughts and our opinions through the way they deliver the news. Our goal is for people to sit back and go, "Hey, maybe he’s got a point. Maybe they have a point as a band. Maybe we should think for ourselves for a change."
Head over to NobodyPrayingForMe.com to check out the interactive video.