Chaos has overtaken the streets of multiple cities in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and Killer Mike had some things to say about that on Friday night.
The Atlanta-based Run the Jewels rapper, whose real name is Michael Render, appeared alongside Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and others in a public plea aimed at ending the unrest. Atlanta became one of many cities dealing with mass protests as the week ended, in the days after video emerged of a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on top of Floyd, a black man, for almost nine minutes.
The horrific footage captured Floyd’s slow, agonizing death on May 25 as he pleaded for help. It wasn’t until four days later that Derek Chauvin, the now-fired police officer who is seen in the video kneeling on top of Floyd and refusing reposition him or stand up, was charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
So protests kicked up all around the country as the week ended, and along with them came looting, property damage, and outbreaks of violence. (Some of the bad behavior, it turns out, may have simply used the protests as cover for ulterior motives.) That’s what led to Render stepping up to a lectern during a press conference in Atlanta on Friday.
And as many have observed in the hours since the eight-minute speech started to go viral, he nailed it.
Render started out by tearfully acknowledging the the racist history of Atlanta’s police department and the first black officers who joined the force. “Here we are 80 years later, I watched a white officer assassinate a black man,” he continued. “And I know that it tore your heart out, and I know that it’s crippling.”
The apparently off-the-cuff speech that unfolds from there seems divided against itself at various points. Render is clearly feeling the same pain and anger as everyone else who is outraged over Floyd’s unnecessary, unjust death. He sympathizes with the hurt and the need to take action.
But the message beneath his more fiery comments is one of peace. Render pleads for cooler heads to prevail. He wants everyone to complete the census and then bring their anger to the voting booths. He wants corrupt and amoral politicians to get beaten up at the polls. And he wants networks like CNN to “stop feeding anger and fear” and to “give [people] hope” instead.
There’s nothing you can take from a summary of Render’s speech that isn’t better captured by the man himself. I encourage you all to give the above clip a watch, and to take those words to heart.
It should be mentioned that some have taken issue with the speech turning Render into a de facto spokesperson for this fraught moment. There’s a variety of reasons being cited for that, from the evidence-supported truth that political actions don’t amount to much in a system founded upon institutionalized racism to Render’s own personal history.
Killer Mike did Black women protestors dirty back in 2016 when they were trying to hold Bernie accountable.
T.I. doesn’t even treat the women in his own life with respect.
Why would we think they were different on a collective level?
— Raquel Willis (@RaquelWillis_) May 30, 2020
The distance between Killer Mike’s RTJ lyrics and his public statements is…something.
— Lysol In E Flat (@GeeDee215) May 30, 2020
Killer Mike telling ppl to set the voting booths on fire and not the mall while wearing a Kill Your Masters tshirt ans sobbing about his cop Daddy is still tickling me
— Danie The Degenerate (@daniecal) May 30, 2020
You know, @KillerMike you said “It’s time to BEAT UP prosecutors you don’t like at the VOTING BOOTH.”
Mike’s talking like a hip hop preacher telling Black people to do all the FUTILE things that DO NOT WORK.
Gucci and Christian Dior are NOT “our” neighborhood.
— Black Authority (@TheBlackChannel) May 30, 2020
I’m not here to arbitrate what is or isn’t a fair criticism of Michael Render. I’m here to share a speech that seems to be resonating with a great many people’s empathetic core at a time when widespread chaos and violence are gripping the nation. Once again, a black man lost his life while in the custody of a police officer. And once again, as anger swells around riots and mass action, those among us who want to live in a better world find ourselves asking if things will finally be different this time?
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump kicked off a working Saturday morning in his usual manner, with a tweet that seems to ignore objective reality.
These are “Organized Groups” that have nothing to do with George Floyd. Sad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2020
The protests are about Trump only in the sense of him being an unrepentant racist, and the current chaos being a reaction to racist systems in the United States having claimed another black life. Those protests came to the White House’s doorstep on Friday because whether Trump accepts it or not, the buck stops with the U.S. president.
No one’s expecting him to be an agent of change, of course. The idea of Trump promoting racial tolerance in America at the tail end of a first term marked by rampant corruption and an erosion of social order is ludicrous.
That tweet is dead wrong, though. The protests, and the simmering anger that finally boiled over as they broke out, are very much about George Floyd. They’re also about Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, and literally countless others who have unjustly, unnecessarily lost their lives to the state and federal agencies that are ostensibly charged with protecting and serving all Americans.