Spike Lee Talks Baltimore, Ferguson: 'It's Not Just a Black Thing'

Dominic Chan

The filmmaker spoke at Canadian Music Week in Toronto on Saturday, May 9, where he was the keynote interview.

Famed filmmaker Spike Lee spoke pointedly about the Black Lives Matter movement at Canadian Music Week in Toronto on Saturday, May 9, where he was the keynote interview.

Following a fun and informational chat during which Lee recounted Michael Jackson and Michael Jordan stories, gave advice to filmmakers and shared his disappointment in knowing that young people might watch Malcolm X for the first time on a tiny cellphone screen, came a Q&A portion and one poignant query from an audience member named Tyrone.

I wanted to know your views on the growing violence in America from police and what that means because I think it’s more of a growing issue of militarization and a police state and oppression of America as a whole. So I just wanted to know if you planned to document that on film?”

While he didn’t answer the final part of the question, Lee, who has directed and produced many films exploring racial issues ― including Do The Right Thing and Jungle Fever, biopic Malcolm X and the documentary 4 Little Girls about the 1963 church bombing in Alabama ― made several points, speaking slowly and emphatically.

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Read Lee's response below:

“This whole stuff is not new. People have cameras. We saw with Rodney King.  Everybody now has a phone that can record something and now people are capturing it. We saw it with Eric Garner in Staten Island. Was the same exact chokehold we saw in Do The Right Thing to Radio Raheem. We saw in South Carolina; we’ve seen it in Baltimore. And so, please don’t believe that this is a phenomenon, that is all of a sudden sweeping America. Now it’s just being caught; everybody now with a camera is a photo journalist.

“But here’s the thing though, even with footage, those cops in New York City got off with the stranglehold on Eric Garner. Remember, those cops ― people forget this ― the Rodney King cops, when that trial got moved to Simi Valley, they got off. And you saw what happened in LA after that. So this stuff is not new; Baltimore is not new. You saw that with the Simi Valley verdict.

“This summer, you know, it might be on this summer... I’m not up here trying to start no shit.

“And last thing I’m gonna say: this is not just about African-Americans. When you saw what happened in Ferguson, they were all over this ― black, white, Hispanic, Asian, everybody was taking to the streets, [and] not just in America. So don’t get tricked in, don’t go for the okeydoke that it is something that only black people are concerned; I think we are all concerned anytime people lose their lives over some bullshit. It’s not just a black thing.

“And also, I promise, for my white Torontokings? Torontotonians? In Brooklyn, well anyway… Do not get offended by ‘Black Lives Matter.’ That’s not to say that white lives don’t matter. The same way people say, ‘black power.' Come back a little bit."

After a pause, Lee continued: “'Black Lives Matter’ is not an offense to white people. And I saw, several nights I was out marching and I saw young white kids with signs ‘Black Lives Matter.’ The thing is that it seems now that there it is less value put on black lives. 

“Now as I’ve said before, these things happen for forever back to lynchings, but now with cameras it’s being brought to the public now, more than ever.”