killer mike

Killer Mike Says America Needs Better Cops And More Guns

The rapper’s criticisms of the police were informed by his father, a cop himself.

Illustration Kevin Sprouls

Killer Mike has a way with words, as a rapper and just as a guy. Across six solo albums and two as a part of Run the Jewels, his duo with El-P, the Atlanta MC has earned a reputation as a wise and sharp-witted social critic. Increasingly, he's been using his position in the public eye to do more than rap. "We are human beings," he wrote this summer in an Instagram caption about the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. "Look at these noble creatures called humans and look at what govt sanctioned murder has done." Killer Mike's relationship with violence and the law, something he's clearly thought a lot about, is complicated by this biographical tidbit: his dad was a cop. We asked him to talk about that.

KILLER MIKE: My grandma used to have a picture of me sitting on my dad's desk, sucking on a lime. He and my mom were teenagers when they had me. A 19-year-old kid becoming a dad—there's not a lot of choices out there. At the time, the police force of Atlanta was heavily recruiting from our neighborhood—the Collier Heights section of Adamsville—and my dad was one of the young guys who got an opportunity to join the force. The city understood that people of power and influence need to look like the people being influenced.

I always liked to see him in uniform. My dad's 6'4" and had a huge Afro, so he looked more like a member of a funk band than a police officer. But he was built to be a cop. My dad was born in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Atlanta. His own father died when he was young, so he had become a guardian of his sisters and brothers and a protector of the other kids in town.

It was like that when he was a cop, too. His precinct was based out of the hospital whereI was born. The people he policed were the same people he went to school with. People in the community shook his hand. He didn't tell me much about his work when I was a kid, because cops don't bring that shit home, but I remember one time he was on the beat playing a game of basketball. That's a different type of policing, and it made me look at my dad like a hero.

"Now, is the NRA headed by some kooky-ass, crazy, bigoted, maybe even racist people? Abso-fucking-lutely. But name any other U.S. institution that isn't."

But a cop is the last thing he wanted any of us to be. He wanted us to be good citizens, and he always wanted us to be respectful of the law, but he never wanted us to be involved in law enforcement in any capacity. I had a friend named Jasper, and his dad was a police officer, too. When we were in elementary school, his dad got killed. That had a lot to do with my dad leaving the force. By then, he had gotten up to about three, four children. I think the job just seemed too dangerous, and he didn't want to risk not being there for his children, so he made the sacrifice to goin another direction.

Thankfully, my dad got out before the drug war started. Reagan mandated it; Oliver North helped bring the dope in; and Gary Webb is dead for exposing these truths. That was the turn in policing: police became solider-like operators and pushers of this false drug war. It's part of a tradition of encounters between black men and police in this country, from the time where you were trying to run away from a slave trader through the '60s, where cops were just knocking your head in during protests. Everywhere you go, you are objects of scorn to the police. And it ain't even just the cops' fault; it's federally mandated with the bullshit drug war, and it's sold to you through media. We're still hopelessly caught up in this circle of hype, lies, and the mythology of black men being monsters. So now police are policing that image rather than policing the community itself and interacting with people on a human level.

As an American citizen, I'm guaranteed rights by the Bill of Rights and the United States Constitution. You can't decide when you'll give me these rights; you can't split hairs over who deserves the rights. If the government isn't properly adhering to the guidelines of our United States Constitution, then the will of the people should make the government fall in line. The will of the people should have the government fearful.

That's something my dad has been telling me my whole life: you would be insane not to own a gun. I'm a member of the National Rifle Association and a proponent of the Second Amendment. Now, is the NRA headed by some kooky-ass, crazy, bigoted, maybe even racist people? Abso-fucking-lutely. But name any other U.S. institution that isn't. If you look at federal guidelines about the drug war—overtly racist for over 30 years. If you look at the hospitalization and proper cancer care for black women in the medical field in Atlanta, black women get far worse treatment than their white counterparts. There is racism everywhere in this country. I'm not going to let that stop me from fighting for my constitutional rights. If my constitutional rights are honored, I don't give a fuck what you think of me.

"Don't feel trapped, don't feel powerless, because you aren't."

The NRA has been one of the biggest proponents for the demilitarization of policing, but the fact that they were not in Ferguson is shameful. The fact that they weren't there next to those protestors, in front of those tanks and tear gas, is shameful. What I would say to any other member of the NRA who is black, white, or any other race that lives within this country is this: whatever you allow to happen to others, it will eventually happen to you. Whatever you allow to go down in Ferguson is going to find its way to your doorstep unless you fight this wrong, this injustice, on all fronts.

One thing all citizens can do is use their cell phones for more than internet shopping. If you see a cop stop someone across the street, stay across the street and film it. Upload that film to Copwatch, upload that film to WorldStar. If you see a gross or egregious violation of rights, send that to your local media, send that to your local newspaper, talk about it in your church or community bar. What you're trying to do is raise awareness. Identify that there is a problem and start to organize around the problem.

People ask me all the time, "Mike, what should I read?" Read the U.S. Constitution, goddammit, so you know what your real rights are. Have sit-downs in the barber shop. Get together, grab your Constitution, and ask yourself, "What do my Second Amendment rights really mean? What can I really do with a gun? What can I really not do?" But don't feel trapped, don't feel powerless, because you aren't. If you have a bad interaction with an officer, make a complaint. Call your city councilman, call your county commissioner, call your mayor. But don't do nothing. Now that we have social media, we can talk, scream, and yell about it over and over again because there are other people out there who feel the same way we do.

One more thing about my dad: he told me a story about when he was young in the force, policing the athletic league. There was a cop smoking a joint right there in the van. The cop offered it to my dad, and he was like, "No, I'm cool." My dad was like, "Look, I ain't no snitch or teller—that's not what I'm here to do. But with that said, I'm here to police." He let it be known that there were certain things he wasn't willing to get into. Now, I personally would have been totally down with the cops smoking a joint with me. I'm not my dad's son in that regard.

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Killer Mike Says America Needs Better Cops And More Guns