At least, that's according to Run the Jewels. In a video released Thursday with the BBC, the hip-hop duo recounted the importance of protest and riots in setting the political agenda.
A year ago this Sunday, Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson. Three months later, when the jury decided not to indict Wilson and riots broke out across the city, Run the Jewels was playing a show outside St. Louis. As the group recounts in the video, they were one of the few bands that decided to perform as scheduled — just about everyone was trying to get as far from the city as possible. To open their set, Run the Jewels' Killer Mike gave a cutting speech about the tragedy. He addressed police brutality and race relations, topics that would quickly come to dominate our cultural conversation.
One year later, in video exclusive to the BBC, the rappers discussed how the events that unfolded on the streets of Ferguson that night and changed the future of the city forever.
Americas are the offspring of riots. "Riots work. And I've never said that in that way before. I'm American because of a riot," Killer Mike told the BBC. "From the time we're kindergarteners to the time we graduate high school, we're told that Americans and patriots got so fed up with paying taxes to the Crown that they decided to burn some shit."
Ferguson is — by some accounts — a riot success story. "Ferguson was over 60% a black community. They had less than 60% representation in politics, far less," Killer Mike says in the BBC video. "[Since the] riots, they have two new black city council members. They have actual advocates in the community now. And the police chief retired. So if it was argued that riots worked for Ferguson: abso-[expletive]-lutely they did."
It's a sentiment that's actually shared by members of Ferguson's own law enforcement. "If not for the unrest, we wouldn't have seen municipal court reform. It's certainly a game-changer," Kevin Ahlbrand, president of Missouri's Fraternal Order of Police and a member of the Ferguson Commission, told the Huffington Post.
Run the Jewels has been pushing that message since day one. The night the riots broke out, they quoted Martin Luther King Jr. "I would like to give all thoughts and prayers to the people who are out there peacefully protesting," Killer Mike said to the crowd. "I also give thoughts and prayers for the people who could not hold their anger in because riots are only the language of the unheard."
The group also spoke openly and honestly about race relations: "We are not going to keep playing that race card, because we know you don't value my skin," Killer Mike said that same night.
But they have been outspoken since. Killer Mike has written several op-eds: two for Billboard, sharing his thoughts on police brutality in the wake of Ferguson and the media's portrayal of the Baltimore uprising, and one each for USA Today and Vox on the way rap lyrics are used in courts to bias juries against black defendants.
The rest of the BBC video shows Run The Jewels describing being on the front lines of the Ferguson riots. El-P shared some thoughts on how seeing Killer Mike deliver his powerful speech made him feel. "I was in tears," El-P said, following his introducing the group as a "fantasy utopian representation of race relations in the world."
Here's to hoping the rest of the world catches up soon.
Watch Run the Jewels' full BBC video here.