The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Hip-hop, spoken word event raises awareness about police brutality

By Shaina Davis

Pounding music, bright lights and dozens of people shouting, mingling and having a good time filled Kagin Hall last Saturday night at the hip-hop and spoken word social justice event, Up In Arms.Up In Arms, sponsored by Macalester organizations and community programs, was a benefit concert to raise money for the family of Fong Lee, a 19-year-old Hmong youth who was killed by Minneapolis police officer Jason Anderson in 2006. After the Lee family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Anderson, on May 28 2009, a jury found him not guilty of using excessive force. Many community members disagreed with the verdict and feel the trial was unfair for numerous reasons. Up In Arms addressed the particular tragedy of Fong Lee as well as the overall problem of police brutality. The $5 suggested donation went towards a fund to help the Lee family pay their legal fees.

The event featured a wide variety of performers, from Blackbird Elements (a local hip-hop group made up of Hmong teenagers) to Nomi of Power Struggle (a half of a hip-hip group based in Oakland, Ca.). Two performers from Shades of Yellow, the country’s first Hmong LGBT organization, performed a song that had verses in both English and Hmong. Rodrigo Sanchez-Chaviarra, a writer and poet, read a poem about the persecution of indigenous people in his home country, Peru.

Event organizer Julianna Hu Pegues said that the choice of hip-hop and spoken word as the content of the event was based on the needs of the community.

“A lot of Hmong youth and youth of color got involved in the trial,” she said. The drive to keep the young demographic involved with the case and with a constructive form of activism led organizers to focus on events that would attract high school and college-aged spectators. The availability of volunteer performers was also a factor in the decision, Pegues said. “It was who was really willing to donate their time.”

One of those volunteer artists was Michelle Myers, of the Philadelphia-based spoken word duo Yellow Rage. Myers expressed interest in helping publicize and protest the Fong Lee case “even before there was an event,” said Pegues, who introduced her performance. “As soon as she heard about the trial, she started emailing us, saying, what can I do to help?”

Pegues also emphasized the importance of having performers from a variety of places and backgrounds.

Numerous artists at the event shared parts of their diverse personal stories in their performances, helping to make those kinds of connections. “We really wanted this to be ‘both and,'” she said. “We wanted to make the connections between this case and how police brutality affects other communities.”

The musical and poetry performances were interspersed with messages from community leaders and event organizers, reinforcing the message of activism and social justice. Posters and protest signs hung on the wall behind the stage, bearing slogans like “We Are Fong Lee” and “Community Against Police Killing.”

MC Tou Ger Xiong’s opening remarks referenced the serious side of the event: “Fong Lee just happens to be Hmong,” he said, “but racial injustice, police brutality can happen to anybody in any community.

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