In August of 2014, protests between citizens and police in Ferguson, MS caught the nation’s undivided attention. One image of young men, bandanas and t-shirts tied around their faces to protect them from clouds of tear-gas as well as to protect their anonymity, toss Molotov cocktails in the direction of officers in militarized protective gear, flanked by tanks. This image looked more like a scene of civil unrest in the Middle East than in America’s mid-west.
Through these protests, the most iconic image to merge is the image (and mantra) HANDS UP, DON’T SHOOT. These protests have worked to illuminate the reality that Black lives remain inconsequential in the broader scope of society. Many take issue with the rallies and marches urging protesters to rally with hands raised in submission, asking the system to acknowledge the humanity of Black males.
Despite the constitution’s guarantee of right to life––meaning even if I were guilty of a crime I have the right to a fair and just trial––far too often in the case of Black men the police serve as judge, jury and executioner. The only warning is the shots that tear through their bodies.
For this issue, I’d like to invite thoughts, images, words that counter the HANDS UP posture and demand respect and equal treatment.
How might the narrative shift if the protest wasn’t a question, but rather a declaration? Can art and protest be empowered by a simple shift in language and tone?
Fahamu Pecou is a visual artist and scholar whose works combine observations on hip-hop, fine art and popular culture. Pecou’s paintings, performance art, and academic work addresses concerns around contemporary representations of Black masculinity and how these images impact both the reading and performance of Black masculinity.
Currently a Ph.D. student in Emory University's Institute of Liberal Arts (ILA), Pecou maintains an active exhibition schedule as well as public lectures and speaking engagements at colleges and museums nationwide.
His work is featured in noted private and public collections including; Nasher Museum at Duke University, The High Museum of Art, Paul R. Jones Collection, Clark Atlanta University Art Collection, The West Collection, and Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia.