T.I. talks with CNN about his new film, "Us or Else"
"Police brutality is really just a tentacle to a larger problem," he said
CNN caught up with Tip “T.I.” Harris at the SXSW festival last month, where the Grammy-winning rapper and actor premiered his latest passion project, “Us or Else” — a short film that examines the relationship between police and the black community.
“Police brutality is really just a tentacle to a larger problem — the racial divide and the systemic racism that goes on from the highest of highs to the lowest of the low of society in America,” T.I. told CNN.
The film is set to premiere on BET Monday night, along with a conversation with T.I. on police brutality and gun violence facilitated by CNN political commentator Angela Rye.
President Donald Trump slammed the Black Lives Matter movement as a candidate, lamented a “war on police” and accused the group of helping to instigate police shootings through their protests and rallies against police brutality.
“There is a new (president) but I am still residing under the tenure of Barack Obama,” T.I. joked at SXSW during a conversation with Sway Calloway. But, he added, Trump is now in the White House and “we dealin’ with it.”
T.I., who participated in Black Lives Matter protests, has been one of Trump’s most outspoken critics in hip-hop, most recently slamming the President in a series of colorful insults on Instagram following Trump’s feud with rapper Snoop Dogg.
The film is the third phase of the Atlanta rapper’s “Us Or Else” movement, which kicked off with the release of his 2016 “Us Or Else” EP, and his 10th studio release, “Us Or Else: Letter to the System,” which came out in December.
The rapper also wrote a series of open letters to Obama and Trump in January, and a letter advocating for civil engagement addressed to Americans.
T.I., who had his own experience with the law when he was charged with illegal weapon possession in 2008, has been outspoken on issues like police brutality in his music for years.
But it was not until 2014 when unarmed Missouri teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by police, sparking an uprising in Ferguson and fueling the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, that discussions over police brutality truly became major national issues.
“I think (the conversation) has mobilized a lot of people and awakened a lot of people, united a lot of people for a common goal,” T.I. said, calling on people to participate in local politics.
Over the past two years, Obama-appointed Attorney General Loretta Lynch launched several Justice Department investigations into police departments around the nation, including Ferguson, Baltimore and Chicago, revealing patterns of racial discrimination in policing and cases of excessive force.
In some cases, the Obama White House has used consent decrees to make changes in policing, which require the city to implement reforms under court supervision whether the police department agrees with the findings or not.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered the Justice Department earlier this month to review all existing consent decrees.
A week later Sessions said that these agreements on reforming police activities “can turn bad” and can lower police morale.
CNN has reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.
Stereotypes that dehumanize black people, particularly black men, lead to worse treatment by police officers and the criminal justice system, T.I. said.
“When you operate within your fear of something, you always put yourself at a disadvantage and I think that excessive force is often used because it’s an intangible fear (of black men) that exists there.”
A new body of research published by the American Psychological Association, which surveyed 950 online participants from the US, found that Americans think black men are bigger than white men, even when they’re not. The study also found that participants also identified the black men as, essentially, more of a threat deserving of force.
T.I. lamented the living conditions in America’s inner cities and said long-term “excruciating circumstances” have fostered aggression and frustration in various communities.
“If you place any creature in such excruciating circumstances over periods and periods of time … after so long, they will be agitated and antagonized,” T.I. said. “It’s human nature, so to not expect that after the type of treatment that has been rendered is insane.”