Michael Franti Speaks Out for Change Between Police & Communities
*How the Song Came Together:
I was working in the studio in Miami on Saturday, December 6th when all the news of the Eric Garner grand jury decision came out and I was really shocked. Having seen the tape of the Garner killing, I could not see how no indictment was possible. When I saw Garner's family members speaking on TV, it was really emotional for me. I was oscillating between sadness, anger, and bewilderment. I couldn't help thinking what if this happened to one of my sons, my brother, my father. I was working with Stephen "Di Genius" McGregor and we were watching all the events unfold and discussing the protests, so I started to write the song. I really wanted to write something that would touch hearts, make people think and be moved to work for change in our country.
I didn't write this song as an indictment against all police officers, or police departments. I have friends, fans and family members who are in law enforcement who are honest, hard working people who go to work everyday doing a job that is far more difficult than mine and have to make decisions that are life or death, or that will put people behind bars for years at a time. But when wrong decisions are made by individuals within those departments and innocent lives are lost, then those officers should be held accountable.
When the decisions to indict police officers are repeatedly denied behind the closed doors of a grand jury and the people are not brought to justice in the public eye of a court room, it breaks all of our trust and it reinforces the idea that there is little or no accountability when it comes to the police killing of African American men and other people of color. That their lives are worth less than the lives of others. Some people may feel that it is fine to have these decisions made secretly. I do not. It is not due process, it is not just, and it is not acceptable. If that's what the law says, then I believe it's a law that should be changed.
*Easing Tensions Between Police and Civilians:
What we see today is the result of generations of mistrust in our communities. Rodney King, The Watts Riots, The Black Panther movement, The Civil Rights movement all played out with police and people in the streets. It's no secret that the police and black people haven't exactly sat down and sipped tea together.
We see incidents like killings taking place and it brings everything to the surface, but honestly it's the way police deal with individuals one-on-one on a daily basis over the years that makes or breaks the trust in the community.
So in two words respect and accountability.
The police will never develop the respect of the community if unarmed men of color continue to be killed and the cases never go to trial in a public court room.
Does it really take a dozen bullets, or a choke hold to arrest an unarmed man? They seem to manage in other countries all the time. Take England for example, where police do not carry firearms. Despite the Eric Garner decision, police wearing cameras has proven to reduce the rate of complaints against them by as much as 80% in communities that use cameras. Equally important is for police to know who they are protecting and serving, perhaps live in the communities or be from them.
As citizens, we are accountable for speaking up and insisting on justice in our society. Holding the system accountable, while doing our best to develop opportunities for all to succeed in our communities, repairing the problems of unemployment, poverty, poor schools, broken homes, drug and alcohol abuse, etc. that help to perpetuate environments in which police/community tensions thrive. We also need to understand that there are people on both sides who sincerely want change and that we need to leave our hearts and minds open to that possibility, if we want to move closer towards justice.
*How People Can Start Today and Rebuild Trust:
The first thing is people need to have an opportunity to vent their emotions in a safe way. People are hurt, and they need to be able to safely take to the streets. Cases need to be tried in court rooms and not behind doors. My goal with this song and video is to promote conversation between friends, family members, in schools, the workplace, and on social media. Today, we have an unprecedented opportunity for dialog to take place, and hopefully action that leads to substantive change. Change in the way our communities are policed, change in the way the judicial system works and perhaps change in the way our communities view and relate to the police and judicial system. It's on everyones minds right now, it should not be swept under the rug.
*Including Footage of Eric Garner's Video in the Music Video:
It was a very mindful decision, but not a difficult one. It's a horrible thing to see, but in order to discuss it, we have to be open to what we are actually talking about. I know some people will be offended by it, and others might be offended by the picture of the black boy hugging a white police officer. Some will not like that I show a sign that reads "black lives matter" as though I'm saying "other lives don't". Some will not like that I show signs that read "All lives matter" as if I'm diluting the message that black men are being killed by the police. Others may disagree that I say in the song that all of us have a role to play in making these changes possible. I wrote every word and selected each image to trigger dialog. I'm okay with that, because that's where substantive change can occur and healing can begin.
My birth mother is Irish, French and German, and my birth Father is African American. I was raised by Finish American parents who had three kids of their own before adopting me and another African American son. A very racially mixed family. For as long as I can remember, race and the questions surrounding it have been a part of my life. My mother taught me at a very early age that I should respect law enforcement, but also to be aware that being one of the only people of color in my community that their might be some not so good officers I should be looking out for.
Today, I live in Hunter's Point San Francisco, a community that is 90% African American. I have had bullets rip through two walls of my home from shots in the community, and I have a neighbor who's unarmed son was killed by police. Last summer, I was stopped, handcuffed, and accused of a double homicide while on the way to the movies with my teenage son. I was eventually released. Being wrongly accused and handcuffed in front of my son left me enraged, but I must admit, had my son been the one who got shot in the double homicide that day, I might have been demanding the cops were at least out looking for the perpetrator.
It's easy for people to generalize and say all cops are bad, or all black youth are trouble. It makes headlines, and it makes situations like the Mike Brown tragedy easier for people on both sides to rationalize.
We all have a stake and a responsibility in bringing about these changes. We might not ever live in a society that is just, unbiased, kind and peaceful all the time, but I know for sure we can all do way better than what we are doing right now. So let's not give up trying. That is the challenge today and we've all been called to play a role in, let's start today.