In defense of Killer Mike, an activist and an artist that “consistently and ferociously brings light and love to the world,” in the wake of his controversial interview with NRATV…
by: Michael Shields
Rapper and activist Killer Mike, of Run the Jewels fame, is in a seething pot of hot water right now, one that amongst social media platforms is steadily boiling over. Appearing in a video released by NRATV, in conversation with fellow guns rights activist Colion Noir (host of the NRA Freestyle web series NOIR), Mike could be found voicing his adamant support of gun ownership, principally in the black community. In the video, released calculatingly by the NRA in the midst of the March For Our Lives, a student led protest that drew hundreds of thousands to the cause of increased gun control throughout the country, Mike described those on the left who tout anti-gun ownership views as “lackeys” of the progressive movement. He also, in what could be viewed as one of the more damning sections of the controversial interview, explains how he discouraged his children from participating in the mass walkouts conducted by students across the nation in protest of gun violence. “I told my kids on the school walkout: ‘I love you, if you walk out that school, walk out my house…’ We are not a family that jumps on every single thing an ally of ours does, because some stuff we just don’t agree with.”
Backlash to Mike’s interview has been swift and energetic. MSNBC’s Joy Reid blasted Mike for “cosigning an organization that traffics in threats against the media (including black women), that ignored Philando Castile, and that pushes gun sales through “brown/black scare.” Shaun King, a renowned writer and civil rights activist, tweeted at Mike “you played yourself,” clearly outlining that the NRA is not an organization to work with on any level because:
“1. They aren’t simply a news platform.
2. They’ve abandoned us many times over.
3. They’ve targeted & threatened & cruelly insulted us many times over. @KillerMike – I love you. You played yourself.”
On the other side of the aisle, and as expected, right wing news outlets are using the interview to disparage Saturday’s march and to use Mike, a Bernie Sanders supporter during the campaign, as an example of the hypocrisy and inconsistency that they believe defines those on the left. One Fox News headline read: “Rapper Killer Mike, who endorsed Bernie Sanders for president, ripped supporters of the school walkouts in favor of gun control following the Florida school shooting.” Needless to say, it became clear in the wake of both the March For Our Lives and the NRATV interview that Mike’s words had been masterfully weaponized by the NRA and right wing news outlets. I believe that this is not entirely Mike’s fault, and the entire situation must be examined as a whole before crucifying the embattled activist/rapper. He, due to all his activism and benevolent work in his community, deserves that. Emphatically so.
The problem here, predominantly, is the timing of the release of the video. Mike, who recorded the interview a week prior to the March For Our Lives, wasn’t aware that it was planned to be released in coordination with the march. Apologizing immediately, he said the interview was “used in the wrong way,” and that “[The NRA] used my words to Black America to inflame organizers of this worthy march but I ain’t their rep.” Beyond timing alone, Mike’s adamant defense of the 2nd Amendment is coming off to many as simple, as the demands of the march are based in common sense and not the “gun grab” that Fox News and other right wing outlets attempt to make their viewers believe. They are demanding the government, state and local, pass a law to ban the assault weapons frequently used to carry out mass shootings, stop the sale of high-capacity magazines, restricting the amount of ammunition, and close loopholes in America’s background checks and implement laws that require background checks on every gun purchase, including those that occur online or at gun shows. This is far from an all out attack on the 2nd amendment and an American’s right to own guns. It is an attempt to make America, and thus the schools the organizers attend, a safer place to be. It’s as simple as that.
But what is most important in analyzing Mike’s stance on gun control is attempting to see it from his perspective, a black man living in American, and in the light of the understanding of the America’s dark past (and present). Because what Mike is talking about in terms of gun ownership is mostly in regards to the black community, almost solely discussing advocating owning weapons as a defense against oppression. He views the discussion about gun ownership through the viewpoint of how blacks have been treated in this country and how they are treated now, and with a racist in power there is no way he can advocate for disarming (although, as alluded to, there is a difference between sensible gun laws and disarming). All of Mike’s ideas about gun ownership are based on the brutal history black people share with this country and steeped in the teachings and actions of Malcolm X. In this way, what Mike is saying makes perfect sense.
Almost without exception, what Killer Mike said in the disputed interview is what he has been adamantly been preaching for years on end now. This is a man, remember, who has a clothing line where one of the shirts, which he can be seen wearing often, reads: “Kill Your Masters.” An artist that raps on a Run The Jewels track, “A revolutionary bangin’ on my adversaries / And I love Dr. King but violence might be necessary.” He is and has been an activist his entire career, continuously fighting for the rights of black people in full understanding of the enormity of what they are up against. Quoting Robert F. Williams from a piece entitled “Negroes With Guns,” Mike shared these words on his instagram to explain his pro gun stance prior to the majority of the backlash: “The Afro-American militant is ‘militant’ because he defends himself, his family, his home, and his dignity. He does not introduce violence into a racist social system — the violence is already there and it has always been there. It is precisely this unchallenged violence that allows a racist social system to perpetuate itself. When people say they are opposed to Negroes ‘resorting to violence’ what they really mean is that they are opposed to Negroes defending themselves and challenging the elusive monopoly of violence practiced by white racists.” For Mike, disarming is akin to giving up the good fight, and that is something that he just won’t do. Ever. Far too many have suffered terribly, and far too many are still suffering.
It became clear that Mike, throughout the day on Sunday, was coming to grips with some of what was problematic in dealing with the NRA. One could witness in real time as Mike, honorably and respectfully, addressed all the concerns about his interview on Twitter, all the while coming to grips with the dishonorable way in which this organization works. It appeared to become increasingly clear to Mike how the NRA weaponizes information as propaganda for their aims. By day’s end, in response to his decision to sit down with the NRA, a contrite Mike, speaking almost exclusively to the organizers of the March For Our Lives, stated in a video message:
“I took a move out of one of my hero’s book, Dr. Martin Luther King, the founder of Kingian nonviolence and I sat with people I might not always agree with, I sat with a group called the National Rifle Association. I did an interview about black gun ownership in this era. That interview was used a week later by NRATV to disparage a very noble campaign that I actually support. March For Our Lives is a youth-run campaign, organized in part by kids out of Parkland, by kids out of Douglas High School down in Florida, and by kids all around the nation. I being a former youth activist and currently an activist and organizer respect there leadership so I want to say first off…I’m sorry guys. I am sorry that an interview I did about a minority, black people in this country and gun rights, was used as a weapon against you guys. That was unfair to you and it was wrong, and it disparage some very noble work you are doing. The work you are doing is self-motivated, self-initiated, and it is noble. I think you should be doing this. Now, also in that interview, you heard me say something about not wanting my son to walk out of class on a particular day. Well, that’s because he’s flunking math, and I really want him to go to college and make something out of himself so I was mad enough to kick his but that day, but I’ll let you know that he still skipped out after lunch, still participated, cause that’s what kids do. That’s what I did when I chose to pray during the National Anthem because a basketball player that I supported was doing so, that’s what I encouraged my kids to do when they knelt with Colin last year and if they continue to do something it’s still something I’ll push for…but I want my boy to pass trigonometry. I don’t’ care what anybody says, it’s important that black boys go to college. Now, as your ally, and I am your ally young people, I want to say that many of the people that I organize with were at that march , whether it was for ending racism or ending classism, or many of the people that agree with the social ideals like free healthcare, fair wages, fair earning for woman, gay and lesbian rights, black rights in particular around community policing and black men, all those things, all those people made up that march — I am a friend and advocate to you all. The young people especially who are self motivated and self organized I am an ally and an advocate for you, always. I am simply stating this, that my interview with said organization that we all don’t agree with was supposed to be something that continued a conversation or that helped a conversation happen that I felt needed to happen — and that conversation is about African American gun ownership. Why is that even important in these times? African Americans have only been free for only fifty-four years. Up until fifty-four years ago we were in virtual apartheid, and some would argue that we still are today. Because of that some of our nuances are subtly different than allies we have and we have to always remember that in our allyship we have to remember that there are certain rights that we make for us and our community. That’s all my interview was about. It was not in contrast to your march. It was done a week before your march. It should never have been used in contrast to your march and I think it’s wrong. To the youth and young people that work tirelessly to organize, I am sorry adults chose to do this. I am sorry NRATV did that. I am sorry that adults on the left and right are choosing to use me as a lightning rod. What I want to encourage you guys to do is keep organizing and keep organizing. Plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize. This world was far different thirty years ago when you could buy a machine gun and it is far different now and it will be different thirty years from now. We are willing to follow your way, lead the way, so I do support the march AND I support black people owning guns. It’s possible to do both. I wanted to make sure that my words were heard. I wanted to make sure I was clear in what I was saying. And I wanted to make sure that you knew that what I did had nothing to do with disparaging you. I love and respect you all. I love and respect and commend you for your work. Keep marching for our lives. Keep pushing on. Peace.”
Now, there are some discrepancies that those who prudently took in the interview and Mike’s response will notice right away. Most notably, Mike’s reasoning for telling his kids to abstain from walking out of class in protest, as he is adamant in the interview that it was because they are “a gun owning family” (and again, the reasons should make sense to those aware of America’s troubled past). Also, Mike’s support of the marchers seems at odds with his response to a shooting that took place at his daughters school, as in the interview he states: “And before you say ‘What about the children,’ my daughter goes to Savannah State University. There was also a shooting on that campus. Talked to my wife and daughter after that, the decision was we’re gonna go to Savannah, she’s gonna get a gun and train more.” But, more importantly, what Mike is saying in his response from late last evening in his support of the march and its organizers, even if indeed in hindsight, must, I believe wholeheartedly, be accepted as genuine. There is no evidence in anything he has said or done in his public career, both as a musician and activist, that hasn’t come across as honest, noble, or authentic for the cause. I believe — entirely — that Mike is triumphantly on the right side of history, in his heart and in his hopes for his community. I believe he is one of the good ones, looking out for his community to the best of his ability and incessantly fighting for the betterment of the oppressed and for people in general. And I am not alone.
El-P, the other half of the hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, in a statement issued today, defended Mike’s heart and sensibilities stating: “He fucking cares. It’s what sets him apart in his music and his life. He stands up when others can’t or won’t. He tries when others don’t.” Acknowledging Mike’s misstep in dealing with the NRA, El-P continued, “He’s a person. He stumbles and makes bad decisions sometimes and he doesn’t always get his message across….but the fact is Mike is someone that I and many of you KNOW consistently and ferociously brings light and love to the world, you simply cannot deny that.”
The timing of Mike’s interview release, as determined by the NRA, is utterly problematic. Also, associating, even loosely or circumstantially, with the NRA right now is not a good look as their true colors (blood red) are being shown like never before, and their corrupt financial hold on legislators across the country is now as overt as ever. But dismissing Mike, as an activist and as one of those on the right side of pertinent social issues in the United States, would be unjust. His pursuits have been noble, his goals for the well being of his community — clear. He is a fighter of oppression everywhere, and while we can surely disagree about the methods, his endgame is that of a free people, of all creeds and colors, united in equality and love. Killer Mike has so much more to give, so much good, and we should not allow this misstep in any way deny the world all that he has to offer. As El-P says in conclusion to his statement, “I know we need Mike out their trying, like he always has, warts and all…”