April 20, 2012
Dear Lady Justice,
On Sunday, February 26, 2012, an unarmed 17-year-old African American male, Trayvon Martin, was killed by a 26-year-old biracial Hispanic American man named George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida.
Martin was returning on foot to the home of his father’s fiancee from a 7-Eleven after purchasing a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea during halftime of the NBA All-Star Game. Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch leader of the gated community where Martin was staying, approached him and eventually shot him in the chest. When police arrived on the scene, Zimmerman claimed that he had acted in self-defense. However, in a 9-1-1 call to the Sanford Police Department prior to the fatal confrontation, the Dispatcher told Zimmerman to stop following Martin after he had admitted to doing so.
Because there was no evidence to contradict Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense, he was not arrested after being taken into custody by the responding officers. Public demand for Zimmerman’s arrest quickly intensified and soon the topics of racial profiling and the Stand-your-ground law were at the forefront of mass media.
Hip-hop has never shied away from discussing indignities, whether it be specific or general. From Public Enemy’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona” which addressed Evan Mecham getting rid of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Arizona to Queen Latifah’s “U.N.I.T.Y.” which spoke out against the disrespect of women, rap music has often excelled when using its reach to affect social change. And in this instance of Trayvon’s murder, hip-hop is again there to speak for the underdog.
“I don’t know if (MC) Serch told me right when it happened or I saw it on Facebook a few days later because, from my understanding, the first week it was only local (news),” Sneakas, a protege of the former 3rd Bass member, explained. [Note: The story was covered on March 8th on “CBS This Morning.” It was then that the story began receiving national attention- 10 days after the shooting took place.]
Ultimately, it was decided that a benefit song for Trayvon Martin, “Neighborhood Watch”, would be made. “Serch and I had spoke and he was like, ‘I really believe you should make this record because you have a unique opinion and not many white emcees are really talking about this.’” Sneakas continued by saying, “And I have the unique perspective as a white person to say what I say in the record which is if Zimmerman saw me, would he try to kill me? And I believe very strongly that the answer is no to that.”
Serch was so committed to the project that he not only got rapper Bishop Lamont involved with the song and posted a video clip to accompany the record, but he also did something that was unprecedented. He arranged it so that every time the song is downloaded for free, his company, Serchlight Multimedia, will donate 5 cents to the Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation.
“It’s a special thing for an artist to not only make art, but to actually try to evoke real tangible change, try to help a community, and try to raise money,” Sneakas commented. “In my understanding of music, never has a label given a song out for free and then donated its own money for every download. As opposed to having proceeds go to charity, there are no proceeds.”
Bishop Lamont was very supportive of the song’s innovative way of helping a worthy cause and eager to participate. “A very good friend of mine actually gave me the call that MC Serch was trying to reach out and wanted me to be a part of the tribute record,” Bishop said. “And then we arrived at the studio and I met Sneakas and it was just automatic synergy. Then the producer, DeWitt, I knew him from years back when I was just starting. We met on the set of a D12 video, so good people find good people. It rotates and then you find each other again at the right times and it just took off from there. I’m honored to be a part of it. It’s the least I can do and I want to do more.”
The passion that Bishop has for this is very clear. And as he explained it to me, I was captivated to say the least. “I was like let me roll my sleeves up and really craft a record that not only embodies what this situation is but is a proper way of speaking about it because this (Trayvon Martin) is not the first time. I’ve noticed in the past couple months that so many young black brothers have been killed. We just had one last week off the 101 Freeway. The police killed a young brother. It’s happening at an alarming rate. But on top of that, it goes all the way back to Emmett Till and even beyond Emmett Till. There are stories that we’re not even allowed to know.”
“I would like the song ”Neighborhood Watch” to first and foremost raise $10,000 dollars for the Justice for Trayvon Martin Foundation founded by his parents,” Sneakas added. “Next what I want the song to do is raise awareness to broaden the scope. I want it to start the dialogue of examining how deep-rooted and subtle racism still exists in this country.”
For as often as this country uses things like race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation and political beliefs to divide us and corrupt the ideal you so proudly represent, in the face of tragedy, it becomes a moot point. We are all human. If we do not learn from the error of our ways, we are doomed to repeat them and that is no good for anyone. So in the same spirit as Eyes on the Prize, “Neighborhood Watch” keeps the truth in sight and makes us all better people because of it.
And because you are blindfolded, Lady Justice, hopefully this song allows you to hear about what you cannot see and provides you with all the information you need so that justice can prevail and a change for the better can occur.