Desmond Lehmann, known to most as local pop singer Dezi 5, remembers being pulled over in Bryan like it was yesterday. The police told him he had failed to stop at a stop sign, but he knew that was untrue. “Do you think I was going to argue with those two cops by myself?” Lehman asks. “I was scared for my life.” Lehman took the ticket and left town as soon as possible. He asked his lawyer how best to handle these types of situations, when he feels like he was pulled over for being black. “You’re in Texas, honey,” was his lawyer’s response.
Now Lehman, along with many other local artists, has donated a performance for a fundraiser this weekend for Mothers Against Police Brutality, an organization intended to help equip people to negotiate situations just like his in Bryan. MAPB was started in Dallas in 2013 after the death of Clinton Allen, an unarmed African-American shot by Dallas police. The goal is to change the way police interact with citizens, especially unarmed mentally ill people, by centering on the efforts of families.
MAPB spoke about police brutality to the United Nations just last week. Working with Kerry Kennedy, daughter of Robert F. Kennedy, they provided testimony at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. “We’ve also gotten officers off the street,” says Sara Mokuria, co-founder of MAPB. “We’ve changed policies in the Dallas police department.”
Police officers used to go right back to work after a shooting. But Mokuria says they helped change the policy to require a waiting period with a psychiatric evaluation before officers go back on patrol. “We also worked to help get the officer who killed Christian Taylor in Arlington fired,” says Mokuria. “That was a victory we took part in.” MAPB has also worked with North Texas police departments to encourage policy changes and new types of training.
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MAPB supports families affected by police brutality throughout the grief and legal processes. Through activism, conversation and policy briefs the organization has been able to create social change. “We use a variety of different strategies,” Mokuria says. “Everything from being in the streets, to dialogues and meetings.”
Friday’s event, Stolen Birthdays, will not only be a fundraiser but a chance to spread awareness of police brutality at the local level. Earlier this week, several local musicians and artists met with members of MAPB to hear the stories of Dallas families, discuss how they have been affected by police brutality and get educated on the issue. Meant to foster collaboration between local activists and artists, it was called a strategy session.
Sam Lao will not be on Friday’s bill, but she attended the strategy session. It was her first MAPB event. “They reach out to families affected by police brutality,” Lao says. “They try to help them tell their stories and deal with the trauma that follows these type of events and really shine a light on these things that are happening.” Lao was surprised by the intimacy of mothers telling stories of how they lost their children to police brutality. “It was very informative,” Lao says. “But it was also very healing.”
Lehman will be performing and he echoes the need for a change in the way police interact with citizens. “Sometimes we do not know exactly what we should do when we get pulled over by the cops,” he says. “We’re so nervous and so scared. We need to know how to act our part as much as them.”
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Lehman is now considering getting a concealed carry license, although he has no interest in carrying a gun. “That means you have no felonies or criminal background,” Lehman says. He loves Texas, but sees the humor in getting a license to allow him to conceal a weapon he has no plans to use in order to avoid the chances of getting hassled or shot by police. “I have to do that to show that I am not a bad person or a felon,” he says, and laughs.
He also believes that the media misrepresents the issue by focusing on cases of white officers attacking African Americans. “There’s more than just African American people that are being brutalized by the police,” Lehman says. He recalls an incident in Lower Greenville in the last couple of weeks that involved a white citizen getting roughed up enough by police that it prompted many to start recording with their phones.
-topic will also perform on the bill and looks forward to interacting with like-minded people to raise awareness. Even with new stories of police brutality coming out everyday, he thinks most people are desensitized past the point of caring. “It’s a fickle world,” –topic says. People get outraged when they read about the latest incident. “But then five minutes later they’re talking about the Starbucks cup.”
Stolen Birthdays featuring PS the Rebels, -topic, Dezi 5, 7 Knuckles and many others takes places at 6 p.m. Friday, at Sandaga 813, 813 Exposition Ave. The suggested donations is $5 -$25, but no one will be turned away.