On Saturday, May 29, the rapper Killer Mike, best known for his work with the duo Run the Jewels, joined the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, at a televised press conference.
Killer Mike usually appears in a choreographed setting, like the official music videos for Run the Jewels tracks like their current single “Ooh LA LA.”
But the rapper’s appearance that night was anything but choreographed.
The mayor’s press conference was in response to the chaos and destruction going on in downtown Atlanta, after peaceful protests in the aftermath of the police murder of George Floyd in Atlanta had turned violent for a second night in a row. (The previous night, protesters had laid siege to the CNN center, in a dramatic confrontation carried live on the cable network.)
Speaking at first with difficulty, yet with mounting passion and profound eloquence, Killer Mike addressed his community in these words:
I didn’t want to come, and I don’t want to be here. I’m the son of an Atlanta City Police Officer. My cousin is an Atlanta City Police Officer, and my other cousin, he’s police officer. I got a lot of love and respect for police officers down to the original eight police officers in Atlanta that, even after becoming police, had to dress in a YMCA because white officers didn’t want to get dressed with niggers.
And, here we are, 80 years later. I watched a white officer assassinate a black man, and I know that tore your heart out.
I know it’s crippling, and I have nothing positive to say in this moment because I don’t want to be here.
But I’m responsible to be here because it wasn’t just Dr. King and people dressed nicely who marched and protested to progress this city and so many other cities. It was people like my grandmother, people like my aunts and uncles, who were members of the SCLC and NAACP. And, in particular, Reverend James Orange, Mrs. Alice Johnson, and Reverend Love, who we just lost last year.
So, I’m duty bound to be here to simply say that it is your duty not to burn your own house down for anger with an enemy. It is your duty to fortify your own house so that you may be a house of refuge in times of organization. And now is the time to plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize.
It is time to beat up prosecutors you don’t like at the voting booth. It is time to hold mayoral offices accountable, chiefs and deputy chiefs. Atlanta is not perfect, but we’re a lot better than we ever were, and we’re a lot better than cities are.
I’m mad as hell. I woke up wanting to see the world burn down yesterday because I’m tired of seeing black men die. He casually put his knee on a human being’s neck for nine minutes as he died like a zebra in the clutch of a lion’s jaw. And, we watch it like murder porn over and over again. That’s why children are burning to the ground. They don’t know what else to do.
It is the responsibility of us to make this better right now.
We don’t want to see one officer charged. We want to see four officers prosecuted and sentenced. We don’t want to see Targets burning. We want to see the system that sets up for systemic racism burnt to the ground.
As I sit here in Georgia, home of Stephens, Georgia, former vice president of the Confederacy … White man said that fundamental law stated that whites were naturally the superior race, and the Confederacy was built on a Cornerstone. It’s called a Cornerstone Speech. Look it up. The Cornerstone Speech that blacks would be always be subordinate … That officer believed that speech because he killed that man like an animal.
In this city, officers have done horrendous things, and they have been prosecuted. This city’s cut different. In this city, you can find over 50 restaurants owned by black women. I didn’t say minority, and I didn’t say women of color. So, after you burn down your own home, what do you have left but char and ash?
CNN? Ted did a great thing. I love CNN. I love Cartoon Network. But, I’d like to say to CNN right now: karma’s a mother. Stop feeding fear and anger every day. Stop making people feel so fearful. Give them hope.
I’m glad they only took down a sign and defaced a building, and they’re not killing human beings like that policeman did. I’m glad they only destroyed some brick and mortar, and they didn’t rip a father from a son. They didn’t rip a son from a mother like the policeman did. When a man yells for his mother in duress and pain and she’s dead, he is essentially yelling, “Please, God. Don’t let it happen to me.” And we watched that.
So, my question for us, on the other side of this camera, is after it burns, will we be left with char, or will we rise like a phoenix out of the ashes that Atlanta has always done? Will we use this as a moment to say that we will not do what other cities have done, and in fact, we will get better than we’ve been. We got good enough to destroy cash bonds. You don’t have to worry about going to jail for something petty. We got smart enough to decriminalize marijuana.
How smart are we going to be in the next 15 to 20 years, to keep us ahead of this curve so that, much like when South Africa suffered apartheid, you had Andy and other politicians that could make sure that Atlanta said, “Coca-Cola, we love you, but if you don’t pull out of South Africa, we’re going to leave. We’re not going to drink Coca-Cola anymore.” Coca-Cola jumped on their side, and apartheid ended.
So, we have an opportunity now because I’m mad. I don’t have any good advice. What I can tell you is that if you sit in your homes tonight instead of burning your home to the ground, you will have time to properly plot, plan, strategize, and organize and mobilize in an effective way.
And two of the most effective ways is first taking your butt to the computer and making sure you fill out your Census so that people know who you are and where you are. The next thing is making sure you exercise your political bully power and go into local elections and beating up the politicians that you don’t like.
You got a prosecutor that sent your partner to jail, and you know it was bullshit? Put a new prosecutor in there. Now’s your election to do it. You want a different senator that’s more progressive, that’s puts marijuana through? Now is the time to do that, but it is not time to burn down your own home.
I love and I respect you. I hate I don’t have more to say. I hate I can’t fix it in a snap. I hate Atlanta’s not perfect for as good as we are. But we have to be better than this moment. We have to be better than burning down our own homes because if we lose Atlanta, what else we got? We lose an ability to plot, to plan, to strategize, to organize, and to properly mobilize.
I want you to go home. I want you to talk to ten of your friends. I want you guys to come up with real solutions. I would like for the Atlanta city police department to bring back the community review board, one that Alice Johnson was formerly under, under Chief Turner. We need a review board here because we need to get ahead of it before an officer does some stupid shit. We need to get ahead of it.
That’s my recommendation to my mayor and my chief. Let’s get a review board. Let’s get ahead of it, and let’s give ’em power. We don’t need an officer that makes a mistake once, twice, three times and finally he kills a boy on national TV, and the next thing you know the country is burning down.
We don’t need a dumb-ass president repeating what segregationists said. If you start looting, we start shooting. But the problem is, some officers are black, and some people going to shoot back. And, that’s not good for our community, either.
I love and respect you all. I hope that we find a way out of it because I don’t have the answers, but I do know: We must plot. We must plan. We must strategize, organize, and mobilize. Thank you for allowing me some time to speak. I’d like to appreciate our chief, for what she said on YouTube. I thought it was very bold to do. I’d like to appreciate our mayor for talking to us like a black mama and telling us to take our asses home, and I’d like to thank my friends for convincing me to come here. And, I defer to Joe Beasley now because he knows a hell of a lot more than we do. Thank you all.
Killer Mike is an American rapper, songwriter, actor, and activist.