St. Louis Rapper Thi’sl Takes Action After Michael Brown Killing
Thi’sl and his pastor Kenny Petty identify with the frustration in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson by protesters who demand justice for Michael Brown.
After a police officer shot and killed the unarmed 18-year-old Brown on Saturday, Petty told a group of Ferguson pastors how one of his best friends had died under similar circumstances 21 years ago. According to Petty, who serves at a church in St. Louis, cops shot his unarmed friend five times in the back and twice in the back of the head as they fled the scene of a gang altercation.
They charged Petty with second-degree murder for the death of his friend and three first-degree assaults, claiming that Petty shot at them first, forcing them to fire. Petty never aimed a weapon at them, but there were no witnesses to back him. He declined a plea deal for a 15-year sentence and spent almost the next two years in prison awaiting trial.
To Thi’sl, this story came as no surprise.
“It’s so easy for an African-American man to get killed in these situations and nothing happen,” Thi’sl told Rapzilla. Petty, his friend, Thi’sl and Brown are black. “The overall consensus of why people are mad out here in Ferguson is because people believe already that this policeman is not going to go to jail.”
Thi’sl, who lives in St. Louis, attended protests in Ferguson on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. He grew up with Brown’s father, and what witnesses tell him parallels what some have told CNN: Brown knelt on the ground with his hands in the air before the white officer shot him multiple times. However, the shooting remains under investigation.
Thi’sl said the Ferguson police department has a reputation of racial profiling. According to Fox 2 now St. Louis, two-thirds of Ferguson’s population is black, compared to only three of the 53 commissioned officers. A study by the Missouri Attorney General’s Office revealed that blacks were twice as likely to be stopped in Ferguson as whites, and blacks were involved in 80 percent of car stops, 92 percent of searches and 93 percent of arrests following car stops.
“Everybody in St. Louis knows you don’t want to go through there,” said Thi’sl. “Ferguson has always been a hot bed for this kind of stuff … It was bound to happen at some point.”
Thi’sl sympathizes with protesters who are crying injustice. He rattled off several stories of instances when friends and family have suffered police brutality and he’s been racially profiled. Despite the motivation he’s been given to seek revenge, he didn’t arrive in Ferguson to protest.
He arrived to run damage control.
Thi’sl reasoned with rioters en route to loot Walmart on Sunday night. He stopped a man from throwing a brick at police. He shut up another who wielded a megaphone and incited the crowd to chant “shoot back.”
Then someone grabbed the megaphone and handed it to Thi’sl.
“Peaceful” isn’t a consensus desire among protesters. Thi’sl said that some want the officer who shot Brown to be brought out and beat to death. Thi’sl wants the judicial system to deliver justice and for citizens to elect officials who care about the community.
After he finished running damage control, on Wednesday he organized a town hall meeting to offer plans of action and find a solution. The meeting will start at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. Rapzilla.com will livestream the event.
Performing will be Brian Owens, a singer who has lived in Ferguson for six years.
Owens dedicated a concert that he had in St. Louis on Wednesday to Brown. He wants to do the same in Ferguson next week. Yesterday, Owens spoke to local news about his concert and concerns for the community.
Until last Saturday, Owens didn’t know the same Ferguson as Thi’sl. Owens said “there’s two Fergusons,” and he lives in the one where he’s never experienced racial profiling.
“I’ve been questioning about my own involvement,” said Owens. “Have I really done enough to reach out and make it my business to know the entire community that my church is in so that I can serve the entire community? Is my church a reflection of the community? If we’ve really been reaching out to the community, you would think … the church would then look like the community you serve.”
Faith is responsible for the ability of some who have known the other Ferguson to promote peace.
“The only reason why I can approach this situation with a level head is because I’m a Christian,” said Thi’sl.
Christianity is also what stopped Petty from waging war on the police who killed his friend. For the first 10 months of Petty’s incarceration, he mocked an old preacher who weekly visited prison to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then fighting landed Petty in solitary confinement, but even though visitors weren’t allowed, the preacher still found a way to meet with him.
Touched by the preacher’s kindness, and locked in a room 23 hours a day with nothing but a cot and Bible, Petty listened to him when he said to read Psalm 51 three times a day for the next week. On the third day, a moment of clarity overcame Petty when he read verse four: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
“My God,” thought Petty. “I’m in trouble.”
Petty wasn’t a “good kid” like Brown has been described. Petty was heavily involved in gangs and drugs. He wanted revenge against the police: “It would’ve been well beyond rioting.”
But a year later, when they offered him just five years of probation to plead guilty, the young Christian was different. The gospel changed his heart. It’s what he believes can change everything wrong about the aftermath of Brown’s killing.
“We still have to have faith in power of the gospel,” said Petty. “Sometimes when unrest happens, we resort to other means and methods. No doubt, the gospel is more than just words—it’s action. But we have to realize that every issue is a heart issue. Every issue is an unrighteousness issue.”
He quoted Romans 1:17, “For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’”
“That’s what really transforms our society,” said Petty. “I don’t want us to lose hope in the power of the gospel and the church. And what I mean by church is the church in action, not the church that sits behind four walls and is passive.”
And, here’s more footage of Thi’sl not being passive.
David Daniels is a writer for Rapzilla.com. He graduated from Geneva College and lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.