Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors Explains Why 21 Savage’s Life Matters

February 8, 2019  |  

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It’s been almost a week since Rapper 21 Savage, whose government name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was arrested and detained by ICE, also known by its government name as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and we are no closer to knowing the truth.

Was he targeted by law enforcement, or was his arrest during a traffic stop initiated by local law enforcement in Atlanta?

And what about the conflicting reports about him having a past conviction and the amount of time his visa was expired? Finally, is 21 Savage from Zone 6 or does he really represent the Tea & Crumpet estates?

What we do know for sure is that the Hip-Hop community has been rallying behind the Atlanta-bred rapper all week, and even Jay-Z has promised legal support to stop his deportation.

Also rallying behind the rapper is Black Lives Matter, which earlier this week, joined forces with other anti-deportation organizations to demand ICE release the rapper immediately. In an exclusive interview with MadameNoire, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors speaks on the misconceptions surrounding this situation, the intersection of ICE, and why 21 Savage matters.

MadameNoire: Is this just a project you’re undertaking or is this a Black Lives Matter-sponsored petition?

Patrisse Khan-Cullors: It’s a Color of Change and a Black Lives Matter-sponsored petition. We started the Free 21 Savage Coalition, and the groups involved are the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), the UndocuBlack Network, United We Dream, Define American, and of course, Black Lives Matter and Color of Change. We are the initiators of it.

What is the goal of the petition and who are [the Free 21 Savage Coalition] expected to deliver it to?

We are actually calling on the ICE field director in Atlanta, Sean Gallagher, to release 21 Savage, whose real name is She’yaa Bin Abraham-Joseph. We are calling on ICE to release him so that he can come home and be with his family and stop his deportation.

In addition to his petition, what is the Coalition prepared to do to help him with his deportation case?

There is a team of us. So it’s the on-the-ground organizing. And what we’ve seen in deportation defense is, public outcry is incredibly important in making sure people know who he is, what he means to his community and what he has gone through. Also why his being in this country is very important for him and his family. But also, the Free 21 Savage Coalition has a team of lawyers – obviously Jay Z’s Roc Nation lawyer came on to support. And we also have a host of other folks on the legal team who are supporting. But this is a team effort. And our organization is working in tandem with a team to lead the coalition and to ensure that She’yaa gets out.

So as an organization, why was Black Lives Matter interested in this particular case? Is it just a matter of 21 Savage’s celebrity status? Are you using his case to draw attention to the larger issues of immigration, particularly as it pertains to Black immigrants?

So he is a British National. And his actual family, on his mother’s side, is from Dominica, which is a West Indies former colony of the British. He came to Atlanta when he was seven years old. So he’s grown up here. Atlanta is his home. We got involved because Black Lives Matter has always talked about how anti-blackness has an impact on the immigration system. And we also got involved because many of us are fans of 21 Savage and he’s who we talk about when we talk about wanting to fight for all Black lives. And yes, his plight is an opportunity for us to talk up Black immigrants and Black undocumented people who are disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of immigration and Black people.

You mentioned that you guys have previously advocated for other immigrants. Can you mention an example of that?

So Black Lives Matter has always been in coalition with different groups like the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, which is the largest Black immigration organization in the country. So we worked alongside BAJI and deportation defense. We are on the front lines to support folks to challenge the border wall. Thousands of people went to San Diego to protest, and here in California, our local Black Lives Matter chapters showed up to support the abolishment of ICE. This has always been huge for Black Lives Matter because we see that police violence is at the intersection of immigrant rights and ICE is at the intersection of police violence. These are institutions that are one and the same and we have to talk about them as such.

And you mention how 21 Savage is a perfect example. What makes him such? I know a few publications have been talking about his felony conviction —

He doesn’t have a felony conviction. ICE lied. So if you read the most recent statements, he has no prior convictions and he has no current convictions. Those first details that came out were all details from law enforcement. And as we know, that is a way that law enforcement criminalizes people who they arrested or killed. They usually come out with their own narrative.

Thank you for clarifying that. So was he targeted? Because I’m reading conflicting reports.

So we all don’t know what happened because none of us were there. I want to make that really clear. What we do know is that there were multi-law enforcement agencies who pulled over the car that She’yaa was driving. When he got pulled over, it was ICE who detained him. It wasn’t local cops.

There is some criticism from some folks in the Black community who feel like we should not be focusing on 21 Savage’s case or any other immigrant issue as descendants of slaves. What do you say to people who feel like that?

Black people in America, we do not get to define what Black is. We are not the only Black people. I think that is the first thing we should be shutting down. There are Black people everywhere. There are Black people across the globe. And Black Lives Matter is a global issue. It’s a global conversation. That’s why we should be showing up for Black people who immigrated here and Black people who are undocumented here. We are a part of a global diaspora. We should feel an affiliation or affinity towards Black people overseas and around the world.

The petition to #Free21Savage has more than 400,000 signatures. In spite of nearly reaching its goal, Khan-Cullors is asking concerned citizens to still continue to pledge their support. If you would like to sign the petition, click this link.

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