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Local Artists Struggle To Make Sense Of Brown's Death

St. Louis rapper Tef Poe.
Courtesy of the Artist

St. Louis artists have responded to the shooting death of Ferguson teen Michael Brown — and the ensuing protests  — with both frustration and compassion. Some reacted as fathers and former Ferguson residents while others actively joined into the weekend's protests.

Rapper Tef Poe, was in Ferguson Sunday and said he expects the events of the weekend to reverberate throughout the St. Louis hip hop community.

“I was on the ground pretty early on in the situation,” said Tef Poe. “When I got to the scene, I could still see Mike’s blood in the middle of the street.”

Poe is angry about Brown's death, believing that the police are handling the situation without compassion. Still, he doesn’t endorse any escalation from peaceful protest to violence

“It was unnecessary,” he said, “but at the same time I understand the volatile nature of the situation.” 

Poe has family in nearby Dellwood and a personal connection to one of the most widely covered locations of Sunday’s violence. “The QuikTrip that burnt down, I used to go to there each day after school.” The QuikTrip is one of more than a dozen businesses damaged by Sunday night’s looting.

Tef Poe thinks the events have already influenced the St. Louis hip hop community.  “It’s crazy because the hip hop community catches a lot of flack for the music and the lyrics that we produce, but from my perspective we were some of the first people on the ground.”  Poe said he and fellow rappers participated in a peaceful sit-in protesting the Brown’s death Sunday in Ferguson.  “I think that the hip hop community is on top of it.”

For author Joe Schuster and painter Cbabi Bayoc, their first reactions were those of fathers.

“My first response was how terrible it was for this young man to lose his life, and how horrible it is for his family,” said Schuster. “I can identify with any parent who would undergo what is the worst thing that a parent can undergo; the loss of a loved one.”

Schuster, the author of "The Might Have Been," raised his family in Ferguson.  Although he no longer lives there, his family remembers the neighborhood fondly. “My children who are all adults now, they feel a real profound sadness over this community that went so far into shaping who they are today.”

Schuster’s concern extends to people outside the community and their perception of events. “I’m always struck by the narratives that people devise to reinforce their own world view,” he said. “The way that they shape the story that they tell about the event, the details they choose to use to talk about the event more often than not just goes to reinforce their relationship to the event.”

One of the paintings in Cbabi Bayoc's series "365 Days With Dad."
Credit St. Louis Beacon file photo
One of the paintings in Cbabi Bayoc's series "365 Days With Dad."

“I both couldn’t believe it, and was sad that this happened again,” said Bayoc, on learning of Brown's death. Bayoc is well known for his series of paintings on African-American fathers, "365 Days with Dad."

Like Schuster, Bayoc identifies with Brown’s parents.  “You don’t even get a chance to grieve.  Every time they turn on the radio, turn on the news, somebody’s in their face and they have to keep living that moment over and over.”

When asked how the events might affect the St. Louis creative community, Bayoc said, “People who normally don’t create something socially and politically, it kind of stirs something up in them and gives them the opportunity to touch that side of them with whatever it is they do. You get to hear the human side of what they do, like rap artists and people who don’t usually think about these things.” 

National entertainers and artists also responded to Michael Brown’s death. Many took to Twitter to express their condolences and support for the community:

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