J. Cole & Ferguson Residents Have A Conversation About How To Fix The System (Video)

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On April 15, J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyez Only documentary aired on HBO, but it wasn’t a concert film despite sharing the title of his most recent LP. Rather, it served as a visual essay on the album’s themes. As its trailer showed, conversations with Black Americans in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Atlanta, Georgia; Ferguson, Missouri; Fayetteville, North Carolina (Cole’s hometown), and Jonesboro, Arkansas (his father’s hometown) were the focal point and illustrated the frustrated sentiments Cole expressed on 4 Your Eyez Only, the album.

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One of the documentary’s most powerful exchanges comes at the 22:08 mark, when a group of young men in Ferguson discuss the issues they face. “It doesn’t make sense in a city that has 21,000 citizens that’s 67% Black have the judge, the mayor, the city manager, five out of six city council members all be White,” says one man. “If you look at the institutionalized racism and the systemic problem that this city has had, 85% African Americans getting stopped [by police], 50 out of 53 police officers in Ferguson prior to August 2014 (when Mike Brown was killed by police) were White. So, the fact is that, when you don’t have officers that live in the communities that they serve, you have these problems.”

Cole responds to the gentleman at the 22:56 mark, saying “you can have 53 cops that’s all Black, and they’re still agents of the system. You can be Black and think White.” Those words inspire the other man’s continued impassioned speech, with him saying “here’s my point, though. What I’m saying is we have to change the system from within,” he says before being interrupted by another local. “What can we do, as a people, to help ourselves? Think about how your mama used to grow up, right?,” he says. “She used to think about the community, right? Everybody used to know everybody on the block, right? Don’t nobody know anybody anymore. And that’s why everything is so fucked up.”

Immediately following that comment, the film cuts to footage of police raiding a house. This is real-life film of the S.W.A.T. invasion of J. Cole’s home that inspired his song “Neighbors,” on which Cole casually details the incident, blaming it on his neighbors, who don’t know him. Rather than take the time to become familiar with him, his neighbors (presumably White) call the police because they suspect there must be illegal activity going on in a home that is frequented by so many young Black, males. The song is the embodiment of the dialogue that was exchanged by Cole and the Ferguson residents.

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The entire 4 Your Eyez Only documentary, which also features Cole visiting families in Baton Rouge still devastated by last year’s horrendous flooding, the footage of SWAT officers descending upon his home that inspired his “Neighbors” video, and much more can be viewed above.