Afropunk stands with Michael Brown and Eric Garner
BROOKLYN, New York – Moe Mitchell, the lead vocalist of hardcore band Cipher, usually captivates audiences with his signature yelling and head-banging antics, but last weekend his attire stole the show. He wore a black t-shirt that read: “DON’T SHOOT.”
Mitchell was among several artists and festival-goers who expressed solidarity with Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and other alleged victims of police brutality at the 10th annual Afropunk Fest at Berry Commodore Park on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24.
Born out of Michael Spooner and Matthew Morgan’s 2003 documentary, Afropunk (which chronicled the black misfits who loved punk but felt like outsiders within a predominately white crowd), the festival has become a symbol of unconventional and multicultural identities in New York.
The festival draws an eclectic crowd of over 60,000 artistic and politically inclined people. It’s a space where queer youth vogue with pride, hipster adults rock out with their young children, and like-minded music junkies come together to express their funkiest style. But despite the upbeat vibe of Afropunk, concert-goers and artists, mostly men and women of color, couldn’t ignore the loss of Brown and Garner, as they are all too familiar with racial profiling and police misconduct.
“As a person that has been a black man for 48 years in America it is obviously distressing but unfortunately not news,” said Binky Griptite, guitarist of Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings.
“It’s good that these cases have gotten so much attention because there are people that might not be aware that this type of brutality is really routine,” he added.
Ayinde Bennett, 31, a Director of College Counseling at Williamsburg Prep High School, attended the peaceful march in memory of Garner in Staten Island, before making his way to see experimental rap group Shabazz Palaces.
“Whenever you see all that many people together for an injustice that took place, I’m always motivated to be there,“ Bennett said. “As a young black man, I always pay attention when other black men or black women are unjustly killed, or just murdered. Period!”
While many Afropunkers like Bennett attended the protest before heading to listen to the likes of D’Angelo, Lianne La Havas, Bad Brains, Tamar-Kali, Trash Talk, among others, the two-day festival offered its own interactive social justice experience: Activism Row.
Professor Robin Hayes of Progressive Pupil and her team arranged booths where a spectator could learn about social justice organizations like Black Alliance for Just Immigration and Milk Not Jails. The main activity was a message board where people could make their voices heard about police brutality.
“Now what we’re seeing is ‘hands up don’t shoot,’ the whole hoodies up marches, and social media campaigns after Trayvon Martin’s unfortunate death, is that young people are interested in creating change,” Hayes said.
“We wanted to show that there are people who are working right now and need our support,” she added.
In it’s 10th year, Afropunk is as much a vessel for activism as it is a music festival.