Pharoahe Monche

When Sean Bell was shot and killed in November, 2006 by Queens, New York, police officers, Pharoahe Monch was outraged. After all, Bell was leaving his bachelor party when he was killed, and the shooting took place just blocks from Monch’s home.

Monch started writing a song about the incident, but became consumed with other music. Then, on New Year’s Day 2009, unarmed 22-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed on an Oakland public transportation platform.

Monch got angry all over again and revisited the song that would become “Clap (One Day),” which unfortunately became even more timely in May 2010, when 7-year-old Aiyana Jones was shot and killed in her Detroit home when police raided the wrong portion of the duplex in which she lived.

"It seems first and foremost I’m being seen as a criminal, even for a traffic stop." -Pharoahe Monch

“Clap (One Day)” was Monch’s way of dealing with the horrible consequences of misguided, fatal aggression by police officers. “It discusses police brutality and the relationship between impoverished people in impoverished neighborhoods and the police, from my perspective,” Monch says of the song, which is featured on his W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) album, which arrives in stores March 22. “From the issues with Sean Bell to Aiyana Jones to Oscar Grant, I just felt it necessary to write this song.”

Monch took the idea a step further by creating a 10-minute short film for “Clap (One Day).” The film was shot in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn and features Gbenga Akinnagbe (The Wire, The Good Wife) in the starring role as a police officer who makes a fatal mistake.

Monch aimed to have the various meanings of the word “clap” to play out throughout the film. “I wanted the clapping to be metaphoric to shooting,” he says. “In the hood, we know ‘to clap’ is to shoot somebody, but I wanted the people to clap - but it’s not applause, though. It’s so layered. They’re clapping, but they’re not applauding the officer who made this mistake.”

Close to Home

Even though the Bell shooting took place close to his home in Queens, Monch has another reason why “Clap (One Day)” is so significant to him. His older brother is a retired police officer. When his brother was active, Monch would often discuss police brutality and other related issues with his brother, who provided him perspective on the difficulty police officers face while attempting to fulfill their duties.

“It’s a difficult job,” Monch says. “It’s a lawyer, a therapist. There are all these different situations you encounter from that perspective and I understand that, but of late, especially in New York, it just feels like you’re just not being treated like a citizen. It seems first and foremost I’m being seen as a criminal, even for a traffic stop. So, I find myself feeling a certain way when I get pulled over for a traffic violation, so I’m like, this can’t continue.”

Monch hopes that “Clap (One Day)” starts a discussion that can lead to some tangible action and resolutions regarding police brutality.

For more from author Soren Baker, follow him on Twitter




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