Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis city. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His project The Hero Killer was released on January 21 and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For the Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get The Hero Killer here.
This week myself and the forever lovely Lex Poe went to see the movie Fruitvale Station. I haven't been emotionally touched by a movie on this level since I was ten years old and witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ via an ABC Easter movie entitled Jesus of Nazareth. I cried and ran into my parents bedroom, screaming at the top of my lungs "They killed Jesus!!"
I didn't cry during Fruitvale Station, but that doesn't mean I didn't want to. However, Lex was sitting directly next to me and she cried as if she was there in the flesh.
The energy in the movie theater was surreal. I appreciate this film because it humanizes Oscar Grant. Racism survives because the victims of racism are often not humanized. This movie gave us the chance to view Oscar Grant as a real person. We felt his joys and heartaches and we viewed the world he lived in from his perspective. He was by no means a young man without conflict and turmoil, but he was also a simplistic soul with a warm heart.
All Americans live our lives in the pursuit of life, liberty and family. These are the values we spend our entire lifetime either pursuing or harvesting in many different forms and fashions. For some reason, people tend to think young black males don't value these things. But we do, and we may value them even more than the next person, because we aren't always able to blindly indulge in these things due to the nature of our history in this country. We were born with a 300 year setback. This isn't a cheap cop-out; it's an unfortunate reality. Being born poor in America sets you up for a setback, naturally.
Stockpiling other hashtags to poverty such as race, gender and sexual preference strengthens the chains of these setbacks. A gay woman born poor has obstacles in her life that very few people can understand. When we add dynamics such as race to her equation, things can become even more complicated. If this woman is a black lesbian woman in the heart of the ghetto, she now has to deal with judgement from her own community because of sexual preference while maintaining second class citizenship as a woman in certain instances. She is also dealing with the judgement of society as a whole, because she's not only a woman but a gay African American woman. Her story is unique and her worldview and psyche are affected by this.
In the wake of such fiery topics as the death of Trayvon Martin, I feel obligated to actually once again care about my place in society when it comes to issues such as the death of Oscar Grant. This weekend I was on the phone with one of the head honcho's from Bungalo Records (the label that distributes for my parent label Overdose Entertainment). These calls are usually pretty stiff and cut and dry. I enjoy them, because I enjoy taking care of business, but we typically stick to the script because this relationship is new and we all pretty much barely know each other at this point in the game. The head honcho, who shall remain nameless, usually tells me about a few things I need to do to ensure that my name receives proper circulation during the Universal Records marketing meetings, which he attends weekly. My life is in the palm of these guys' hands, so naturally I take heed and listen.
The tone of the conversation is usually all about fan engagement and showing people who I really am as a person. I've always felt like I do a decent job at that, but prior to this I wasn't concerned about setting myself up to sell an album. I talked to him briefly about the fact that I don't want to be pigeonholed as some sort of hip-hop political activist. His reply was basically "be who you are, and if the shoe fits wear it."
I didn't want to write about this particular topic, but after my conversation with him I feel strongly committed to the task of being a voice for the voiceless. So I press rewind and take you back to Fruitvale Station, the movie that focuses on the life and death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was gunned down in Oakland for absolutely nothing by the BART police. Since the day I originally learned about this story via Facebook and Twitter, I felt immediately offended by what happened to Oscar. He was on the train, heading home on New Years Eve, and the police shot him in the back while he was handcuffed and laying face down on the ground. He was only 22 years old and he had a daughter. The movie is eerily accurate about the events of his life prior to his untimely murder. I think language is important when discussing incidents such as this, because we must call these things what they are. Oscar Grant was murdered by the police for absolutely nothing, and the officers received a petty slap on the wrist. We have to start calling these situations exactly what they are. Oscar Grant was murdered.
I want this to stick with you the way it stuck with me. I remember watching a documentary about a young kid named Alex Supertramp. He hitch-hiked across the country and became a bit of an urban legend before his horrific death in a remote location in the depths of an Alaskan forest. Alex's story will forever stay with me until I leave this life. I actually want to visit the camping site which is now notoriously known by Supertramp enthusiasts as the place where he died.
Oscar Grant now shares a space in my heart with Alex Supertamp. Trayvon Martin shares a space in my heart with them as well. These are stories I will share with children about young people that influenced me and were not too far from my age at the time of their death. These guys were not saints, but they weren't criminals or thugs. They were regular young people trying to find their way in a cruel world that rejected them. Oscar Grant was 22 years old, he had a daughter and woman he intended on marrying by his side. Oscar Grant was murdered. Why was Oscar Grant murdered? We all know the answer but we choose to ignore it and not acknowledge it for what it's worth.
Institutionalized racism murdered him. Police brutality murdered him. Racial profiling murdered him. Once again, he was not murdered by a person of his own generation. He was murdered by an older Caucasian male with a fully loaded gun, which was pointed directly at his back while he laid face down, totally defenseless. He had friends that were all shades of color, as shown in the movie. The generation of youth may have issues with profiling on some level, but we are nowhere near as bad as the older folks. My children may be even better than us in these regards, and this very thought is beautiful.
But for now, there are people still alive and breathing and in positions of dominance and authority with malice in their heart, and prejudiced intentions which dominate their interactions with young black males such as Oscar Grant. I realize young black men are not the only people that deal with profiling and police brutality. But since I am a young black male, and one in a position of influence in certain social circles, I'd be an Uncle Tom to the fullest degree if I did not do my best to serve those that have been victimized by these demons.
Every time I think about the depth of Oscar's story I feel a series of emotions. I want to feel angered, but I can't because it's pointless to be angry. For the last fifteen minutes of this film I sat in my seat at the Tivoli and shook my head in disbelief and disdain. I related to this young man because I've led his life. I've lost my job and lied to my live-in girlfriend about it. I rode public transit and I've also experienced being handcuffed at the Metro Link Station. My friends aren't total complete thugs but they aren't waterboys either.They're regular people with regular concerns, and sometimes we find ourselves in situations that aren't made for a children's bedtime storybook.
Our concerns and pressures aren't humanized to people that don't look like us. Our happiness and the things that we value, such as our relationships with our mothers, uncles, aunts, are just as normal as the next person's. We're not menacing thugs that live in the name of terrorizing others or having violent encounters with police. We're regular people, and we seek to live completely normal lives. This film does an excellent job showcasing the normality of Oscars life. It was realer than I expected, and I think this is why the ending draws so much emotion from the viewers. We all know how this story ends, but we're all human and so we also know it didn't have to end like this.
Even the music he played in his car during a particular scene (Bay Area indie hip-hop artist the Jacka, of the Mob Figaz) reminded me of myself. I'm a huge fan of the Jacka, to the point that I attempted to reach out to his management to collaborate a few years ago. I've jokingly played with my girlfriend as she's journeyed into her job for the day. I've went home and stood in the kitchen as I pondered how I am I going to provide for us today. The movie touched me because it was real and didn't sugarcoat his demons, nor did it overplay his positive attributes. He was a real person living a real life of highs and lows.
I've had the pressures of knowing the rent was due and having four weeks to figure it out. As a young black man in this society, coming from humble beginnings, Oscar Grant and I share the same exact story as thousands of people that have walked in our shoes. The difference is I'm alive and typing this blog while Oscar is dead and in the grave. I ask myself often, how long will I actually live? Most people probably don't quite think about these types of things as often as I do. I'm from St. Louis, and my concern is that the police will either kill me here or another person that looks like me -- unless for some reason I am special enough to defy the odds.
When I'm walking the streets on a regular day in North Saint Louis, I am not Tef Poe. Sure, certain people stop me and recognize me. I can't get out the car and comfortably do some things without being tied to a five-minute conversation with a random person sometimes, but for the most part I'm just another dark-skinned black guy walking down the street on any given Sunday. Hip-hop heads of my age and demographic recognize me and embrace me as a local celebrity of some sort, but people that don't give a damn about my music and me as a person don't give me any more special treatment than the next person.
When I'm walking down the street with a trillion things on my mind and attempting to figure out my day, the possibility of not seeing tomorrow is in the front of my mind. The older I get, the more likely this possibility will be centered around things that consist of my health and my family. But as of now I believe this possibility is centered in prejudice, institutionalized racism, hate and envy from other people of my race and in my age range. Once again, we must stick to our guns about the language we use when discussing these issues.The police aren't taught to value us; it seems that they more so view us as their omnipresent foe.
Oscar Grant laid on the ground with a bullet in his body while his blood stained the concrete of the Fruitvale Station termina. He could barely breathe and said to the officer underneath his breath, "You shot me; I have a daughter." I have a daughter, you shot me and you don't care. I am not human to you and never will be viewed as such is what I wish he could've said to this demonic sadistic poor excuse of human flesh hiding behind a badge and a pistol. The footage of Oscar being shot in the back dominated my Facebook feed. I watched it via youtube more times than I can count. He was shot in the back like a animal in the jungle being hunted by a predator. He was murdered and the police didn't care.
They took to the train and tried to confiscate all forms of footage capturing this hate crime. He was a young man that didn't deserve to die, but this means nothing to them because in their eyes people like myself and Oscar Grant are nothing more than cockroaches. This was a cold-hearted, evil and cowardly act of violence. The tears and prayers of Oscar's mother meant nothing to them. The lies they told about his character, in the name of defending themselves, should condemn them to hell. We live in a world that gives certain individuals supremacy over the others. We all contribute to these things at random moments on our own accord. I wonder how many George Zimmerman sympathizers share the same sympathy for Oscar Grant. I don't think Zimmerman committed an act of self-defense. Today I posed a question via Facebook. To the George Zimmerman sympathy-sizers in my feed -- what degree of sympathy would you give to the family of Oscar Grant, if he would've won this fight with the police officer and broke out of the handcuffs and beat his head into the pavement before this police officer had the chance to shoot Oscar in the back? Would you feel the same empathy for him as you do for Zimmerman?
I leave you all on this note. This is your weekly dose of shit we all hate talking about in a public platform. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Life just isn't fair sometimes, and what happened Oscar Grant sucks on all levels. They say everything happens for a reason, but it's hard to believe things like this are ordained by God or the universe. I question what I actually believe in daily, and having things like this on my mind only intensifies those questions. Race in and of itself is such a volatile subject these days. I left the movie theater and walked back into a world that wasn't a script. As we all exited the theater we were people of different colors, creeds, sizes, shapes and genders. We were drained from this movie and you could see it in our faces. In the parking lot we were courteous to each other as we departed. I think we were all actually more courteous than normal, because this film helped us realize a few things about each other.
We're all real people. You and me basically want the same exact things out of life, but our vision of these things may be slightly different. We all want happiness and we all want to maintain our God-given right to grow old and maintain our freedom. So many things on a daily basis play a vast role in hindering us from achieving this. A senseless bullet in the back prevented Oscar Grant from partaking in this mission statement.
I don't want to talk about things like this every week, but if it's on my mind I'm doing myself and the world a grand disservice if I don't open up the floor for a honest dialogue. In my music I talk about things of this nature often, but my current radio single is about a popular alcoholic beverage party-goers are served in St. Louis nightclubs. This is the balance of life, and this makes me human. I care about topics such as Oscar Grant's careless murder, but I also don't find myself utterly consumed by these things to the point where I don't think about anything else. Oscar Grant seemed to live a similar life. He was out partying with friends and the love of his life, he was 22 years old and he was forced to deal with the harsh reality of police brutality and racial profiling as he laid face first on the ground with a bullet burning his flesh and draining the life out of his young body. Oscar Grant was murdered. This entire ordeal saddens me more than I can even explain.