Matt Geffen felt helpless.
A sophomore at Marin Academy in San Rafael, Geffen was shocked and moved by the video circulating all over social media, showing Staten Island law enforcement fatally asphyxiating Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold on the sidewalk. He followed the outpouring of anger on social media, saw his favorite artists release songs about the incident, and watched protesters march down Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley. But "most importantly," Geffen tells me, "I saw a conversation about injustice and racism take place and stop as quickly as it started. That was the part that really bothered me."
Geffen didn't want the conversation to die. Teaming up with Oakland arts group HGMNY, he started contacting hip-hop artists -- Childish Gambino, Macklemore, Watsky, Lil B, anyone -- in an effort to put together a benefit for Garner's family. Casey Veggies, who sprung from Los Angeles' Odd Future collective, signed on. So did Dizzy Wright, the Billboard-charting rapper from Las Vegas. Finally, Pell, a rapper from New Orleans displaced by Hurricane Katrina and now based in Mississippi, confirmed as well. All three agreed to perform for reduced fees. The New Parish offered their stage at a reduced rate.
Geffen started feeling less helpless.
"The outpouring of support was definitely something that kept us motivated," Geffen says, noting that law enforcement's disproportionate targeting of black males and overreach of authority is a coast-to-coast issue. "Not just in Marin City, but in Marin as a whole, I see groups of people powerless against police force. Whether it’s the homeless or the mentally ill, police brutality isn’t entirely a racial issue, but rather an abuse of power issue. You know there’s something wrong with the relationship between the police and the community when there are entire ethnic groups and minorities living in fear of being pulled over for their skin color or being frisked just because they don’t know where they will spend the night."
Special guests at the show on April 9 include Garner's eldest daughter Erica Garner, who hosts the show, and Rev. Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, who will speak from the stage. "Eric Garner might have been killed in New York, but Oscar Grant was killed less than five miles from where the benefit is taking place," Geffen says, "and the next name we see in the headlines might be someone killed in our backyard."
All profits from the night will be donated to the family of Eric Garner. What's more, the conversation will keep going. It has to.