by Tef Poe
Editor's note: Tef Poe is an artist from the St. Louis area. 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 2 and was followed up this year by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For the Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get The Hero Killer here.
Dear Mr. President,
I write this letter with high hopes that it reaches you with a sober heart and a pair of open ears.
In St. Louis, our police force has a history of abusing its power while torturing black people. We have cried out for help, and your response earlier this summer basically condemned us. Like many other young people from my community, I was confused.
The police attacked us for taking to the streets to resist police brutality, and our beloved black president seemingly endorsed it. I'm sure you will say this isn't the case, but as a young black man in America I speak for a large demographic of us that has long awaited our black president to speak in a direct tone while condemning our murders. From our perspective, the statement you made on Ferguson completely played into the racist connotations that we are violent, uneducated, welfare-recipient looters. Your remarks in support of the National Guard attacks upon us and our community devoured our dignity.
When an assault rifle is aimed at your face over nothing more than a refusal to move, you don't feel like the American experience is one that includes you. When the president your generation selected does not condemn these attacks, you suddenly begin to believe that this system is a fraudulent hoax -- and the joke is on you. Racism is very much alive in America, but as a president with so much melanin in his skin, you seem to address it very bashfully.
Many of us, whether we admit it or not, looked to you for some form of moral support. We do not want to die. We do not want race riots in our city. We previously lived very normal lives outside the overly aggressive dealings we've often experienced with those who are sworn to uphold the law.
Police often kill us (every 28 hours in this country, in fact) and go unpunished. Who holds them accountable if even our president has no official commitment to do so? As a community of young, responsible and politically engaged black people, we have collectively decided that we will hold them accountable ourselves. We are committed and will continue to fight in a very fearless and openly broadcasted display of hope and audacity. We are a broad coalition of organizers and activists. Through the marvels of the Internet our reach has traveled across the world.
In Geneva, Switzerland, a few of us visited the U.S. ambassador, yet unfortunately this display was a waste of time and energy. He did his job. He heard our concerns, but he was not emotionally moved to stop this massive act of violence from the state. And I say to you, Mr. President, your silence is consent as well. We will remember you according to your work. When you leave the Oval Office and return to society as one of us, we will judge you accordingly. Your party is being judged accordingly.
Governor Jay Nixon is your colleague, but through a lack of sound judgement and sincere analysis he has morphed into the everlasting enemy of oppressed black people in Missouri. Senator Claire McCaskill has a bit more dignity than Nixon, but her decision to remain idle on this subject has also signified to the community that she is not one of us.
Right now we are being treated like enemies of the state while the racist police force continues to arm itself and occupy our communities. We encountered the harsh nature of the militarized police force first-hand. We were tear-gassed and hoarded into jail cells like livestock, simply for chanting in honor of Mike Brown. Armored vehicles turned our neighborhood into a military encampment. Young women from Palestine have visited us and lectured us about constructing homemade gas masks. College students are actively searching online for affordable bulletproof vests.
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I have never looted or violently struck a police officer. We do lift our voices to yell, and yes, we often use profanity. We are more aggressive than protesters in the past, primarily because we are in a state of emotional disbelief. Mike Brown spent four and a half hours in the street, baking and bleeding on the hot summer pavement. We know you know this is wrong, so the disconnect between your words and your personal convictions has raised many questions in the black community.
Now we are organizing against you and members of your party as though we didn't vote for you to begin with. This saddens me, because we rooted for you. We love you and want to sing praises of you to our children, but first we need a statement of solidarity from you to the young black people facing the perils of police brutality. We will not get this statement, and we know it.
I wish you could remember your days as a grassroots organizer in your own community. I beg you to find time to reflect back and remember when you were in the same position as we are. You are a career politician, so your opinions may not have been as radical as mine, but remember back to when you were organizing at this level.
If not for the protection provided by their last name, your beautiful black daughters could also be considered human targets. If the malice of Darren Wilson would've left Sasha in the middle of the street with a bullet in her head, would you have responded to this matter with such a passive, unemotional tone? Would you go on camera and applaud the National Guard for attacking the citizens of your own neighborhood for demanding answers for the murder of your daughter?
Have you heard the sobs of our mothers as they suffer through these atrocities? What if Michelle had to look into a casket with one of your daughters inside it? What if a careless police officer attacked your family in this manner, and the only line of defense you have is the community?
Me and my friends are young. We voted for you because initially you spoke our language. We believed you would be more of an activist than a typical suit-and-tie teleprompter politician. Are you not outraged by the treatment of your own people by law enforcement? Why is it so difficult for you to display a moment of honesty and reflection to the public about your own blackness?
Your children will grow up with black skin. They have black parents. We will want to champion them as honorable reflections of the black American experience. Will your decisions to not address these issues play a role in their acceptance into the black progressive community when they are older?
I address you respectfully and with great admiration for your accomplishments. As a black man talking to another black man, we can no longer afford to allow you, as our highest voice in the highest office, to remain idle on the issue of race and equality in America. We can no longer allow you, as one of the most respected and admired black men on the planet, to ignore our cries for help. Most of us don't have the privilege of the Oval Office. Even with that privilege, at the wrong place and time, you too can become a victim of this violence. Please help us fight these monsters. The right side of history awaits you. I love you and respect you, like a younger brother watching his older brother from the bleachers.
I am simply asking you to help us.