Murs Sounds Off on Freddie Gray Protests in Baltimore, Says ‘We Need to Evolve’ and ‘Focus on Something More Impactful’ [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
The spotlight has been shining brightly on Baltimore, Md. this week and unfortunately the cause begins with the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, an African-American who fell into a coma while in police custody on April 12. Six days later, he died as a result of injuries to his spinal cord.
Six Baltimore police officers were temporarily suspended following his passing and the uproar followed due to the public calling out those officers' unnecessary use of force on Gray. News reports and photos of Baltimore show a city in chaos, with many in the black community taking a stand against police brutality, which unfortunately has ended in more arrests and violence in some areas. Fires and looting have also taken over the scene while peaceful protests get little attention.
Everyone from celebrities to the internet savvy are offering their opinions on Freddie Gray's death and the Baltimore police via social media and other platforms. With all of the turmoil that's occurred within the last few weeks, Los Angeles rapper Murs hopped on the phone with The Boombox to give some food for thought on the situation.
"I think it's a tragic tragedy and unfortunately it's nothing new and it's been happening in the black community way too long," Murs tells The Boombox. "I think it's a lot of misdirected anger and understandable anger and justified anger. But there's a lot of better ways to channel it and there are bigger problems in the black community than police brutality."
Murs reveals that he's also been a victim of police brutality, but there's a bigger picture to focus on than that. "And for me, coming from Los Angeles and being a victim of police brutality and also being a victim of gang violence, I feel more apprehension surrounded by black males than I do the police," the 37-year-old admits. "I don't like the police at all, but growing up, my fear wasn't that the police were gonna take my life, it was more fear that another black male would take my life."
"And having my friends being shot and killed by other black men more than the police, it's a more legitimate fear and it's a bigger problem in our community cause we're not loving ourselves," he continues. "So when we march against the police, but we're still killing ourselves, it's almost hypocritical at some point. Nobody marched when my family was murdered by gangbangers and to me, that's just as tragic or even more tragic because he was killed by people who know our struggle."
When asked what he feels will result from the peaceful protests and uprisings when all is said and done, the MC born Nicholas Carter sounds less than optimistic that it will make a lasting change, if any. He feels the black community should focus their efforts inwards on a consistent basis instead of outwards in the face of tragedy.
"I think we're repeating ourselves right now, so we know what the outcome is gonna be," Murs admits in reference to the social unrest that has been dominating the news cycle as of late. "Coming from Los Angeles, in 1992, my family owned a respected dry-cleaning business in South Central in the Watts uprisings and the Los Angeles uprisings as well and all it did was damage our community, it didn't make any impactful or lasting changes on LAPD or our community."
"We're asking our justice system -- that hasn't showed up any respect or any love -- to give us justice, it's ridiculous, man. We're asking the same system that put these cops on the street to now put them in jail. But the system was designed to put us in jail; it's just a wasted effort."
He recalls what happened when those riots in the early '90s destroyed businesses necessary for positive development in his community. "My mother, on the corner by her dry cleaners, there's a grocery store. It's a different chain, but they burned it down in the '92 riots and her and the committee in our community it took 18 years to get another grocery store in the community," Murs explains. "That's food that our people need. And poor people having to spend money on the bus to go grocery shopping when they could've just walked to the corner, but since certain individuals burned it down in a so-called uprising, there's no food, you know? Police aren't the biggest problem. I think the overall culture of violence in America is the problem."
While much of his livelihood is thanks to hip-hop, the rapper, whose new album, Have a Nice Life, arrives May 19, feels the culture perpetuates the negative stereotypes associated with black youth. "Even hip-hop has to stand up and take some accountability because how long can we say it's wrong for the police to shoot us, but we celebrate artists who celebrate killing one another?" he says. "We call ourselves thugs and gangsters on national television and brandish firearms with our shirts off showing our tattoos and brag about killing one another. And unfortunately, for some people in white America, that's all they know of us."
Watch Murs' "No More Control" Video
Despite his own interactions with cops, Murs isn't putting the blame on every officer when it comes to violent force against citizens. He gives two examples of police officers with drastically different methods of interacting with the neighborhoods they patrol. "There's a cop that lives 30 minutes outside of the city that just wants to get a job to feed his family. He doesn't give a f---- about if our streets are safe, he's just there or a check. And of course this white guy is scared of us, 'cause he doesn't know anything about us. And when you're a police officer, you only encounter the worst 'cause you're only called to come in when it's something negative happening."
"And I follow one cop in Arkansas on Instagram and he's a white guy that's actually been going out to speak wit the children in schools and getting to know the people in the black community," Murs shares. "That's very rare and I think that should be required of the police. But nobody's coming up these type of ideas. Instead of trying to put this person in jail, let's prevent the next time we're required every officer to do 30 hours of community service a year where he just goes and plays basketball with these kids and make things better."
He again points to the effects urban culture has on keeping the cycle of injustice going. According to Murs, young black men are ostracized for wanting to pursue a career in law enforcement and pegged as an Uncle Tom or a sell-out. Instead, he urges for minorities to be proactive rather than reactive when confronting an injustice.
"For us, instead of saying f--- the police and chastising the people who do decide to become police and calling them snitches, how can we say there's no good police when we discourage black men from becoming police? And I was one of them. I remember when my younger brother told me he wanted to be a cop, I literally punched him in the face. I called him a sell-out. But I was young and angry and reading Eldridge Cleaver and all this stuff."
"But that's part of the problem. No one in our community wants to become the police because it's looked at as the badge of a coward. We have to change that perception as well. Police ourselves or say we don't want anymore police officers, we're gonna take care of ourselves and we police the young black men in our community. Lets make a movement to do that."
These days, Murs calls home to Tucson, Ariz., which is thousands of miles away from the riots he witnessed as a youth. He may not walk down those same streets but he's constantly reminded of what happened there when he sees the same kind of activity going on in Baltimore in 2015. However, instead of acting out, he believes the change that needs to happen should start by people looking within.
"I have so much faith in the black community and black people that we can bring a peace to our community and stop looking out for help. But there's enough of us now with money," he discloses. "There's billionaires in our community now where these people would be willing to invest in programs that are funded and started by us for us so instead of asking America -- and I just don't want to say white America -- but just asking America [as a whole] to come up with programs now 'cause they don't know what the f---'s going on. They don't know what the problem is."
He also points to his own personal growth in directing his anger against the system. Starting with the kids has helped in more ways than one. "For me, as I grew up, I was angry and I told my mom if I'm not dead by the time I'm 18 living in this city, I was gonna go in a police station and suicide-bomb it [out of frustration]. But as I got older, I was like, 'That's not the way.'" Get a job or make some money, empower yourself and I [ended up] adopting two black children," Murs states.
"That's a problem, a lot of us are stuck in foster care or stuck in the system. But I'm gonna continually try to bring youth into my home and I speak in schools whenever I can because that's the more productive route I would like to take than to rail against the American judicial system or talk s--- about my president without having enough power or enough intelligence to handle the problem directly."
If more people adopted troubled youth or made a consistent effort to spend a weekend with a parentless child or fatherless child in the black community, Murs says, "we can make a difference." "If you have enough time to march, you have enough time to be angry, you have enough time to focus on something more impactful. I mean, we're running up against a brick wall," he says. "The American justice system was not built for us or to create peace in the black community, this system was built on enslaving and oppressing us and it's just ridiculous to me."
"Five hundred people died from police shooting [last year]. Five hundred people die every month from black-on-black homicide. And nobody's outraged about that. I'm even more outraged at us when we kill each other and we're not marching about that and it's just ridiculous, I just look at it as we're being silly and being redundant," Murs reminds. "We need to evolve."
The songs featured on Murs' Have A Nice Life showcase some of that evolution and life after the post-riot L.A. he experienced. Unfortunately, a look at Freddy Gray's death in Baltimore proves things haven't changed much. But embracing Murs' words of wisdom surely helps.