Arthur "Silky Slim" Reed (Photo via Silky Slim)
Drivers lay on their horns as they pass a mass protest outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. People fill the parking lot and line the streets, sitting atop cars, singing and waving signs. This is where Alton Sterling was reportedly selling CDs on Tuesday, minutes before two police officers pinned him to the ground and shot him in the chest, killing him. They were white; Sterling was black.
Arthur "Silky Slim" Reed, former gang leader and founder of anti-violence group Stop The Killing, is at what he calls "ground zero," livestreaming the protest, which began July 5, on social media."It's 1:30 in the morning and it's still going down as you can see," Reed says, pointing the camera at himself. "Everybody's still out here protesting the killing of Sterling.""This is definitely something for the world to see."
Reed's group was the first to upload a video of Sterling's killing. The disturbing images, along with the livestreamed aftermath of the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, also at the hands of a cop only this time near St. Paul, Minnesota, on Wednesday, has again sparked mass protests over police violence against African-Americans.Unnamed witnesses filmed the incident and brought the video to Reed. When he saw the "horrifying" footage, he knew he had to get it out as soon as possible."This was an execution and this was an assassination," Reed said in an interview with Democracy Now. "This is murder at the fullest and we don't want to deal with that because we always try to overlook these issues, especially when it comes to the African-American community."For the last decade, Reed and his crew have been filming violence in Baton Rouge in an effort to "wake up" the community, especially its young people, and show them life is valuable.
But Reed didn't always think that way."I was a 22-year gang leader, and I've been shot many times. I've lost hundreds of friends in gang warfare," he told VICE News over the phone Friday.Reed's involvement in crime started at age 12, and at 14 he was sentenced to a juvenile correction center for two counts of attempted second-degree murder. Since then, he's been in and out of jail for most of his life.After he was released from juvie, he went on to found two gangs in Baton Rouge that are still battling it out today."The saddest story that I have in my life is, my first cousin, who is my mother's brother's child, and me became gang leaders," Reed says."Unfortunately we became the leaders of two rival gangs. And there came a time when our gangs became enemies, and my gang ended up killing my cousin, and I have to live with that story for the rest of my life. This is my blood cousin, and at the hands of something I created, he lost his life. And I can't bring him back. But I have to deal with his little kids who don't really understand why this happened."His first cousin's children asked him, "Why did this happen to my daddy?"He can't explain it.
"The only thing that I can tell them is that there was a time when I was deep in ignorance and did not understand the value of life," he said. "And because of that, both of us made choices that costed (sic) him his life, and costed me a burden for the rest of my life."
Before he turned a corner, Reed attempted suicide three times. On one occasion, he writes on his website, he jumped from a third-floor hotel window but was saved when his shoe caught the edge and he was left hanging, screaming for help. Another time, he put a loaded gun to his own head, but stopped at the last moment when his five year old walked in and asked, "Daddy, what are you doing?"Silky Slim says a car crash changed his life.In 2003, Reed was riding in an SUV when it hit another vehicle. Everyone in the crash died except Reed, who was saved by his seatbelt.As he pushed his friend's body off of him and climbed out of the wreck, he says he heard God speak: "I just brought you out of that, now what are you going to do for me?"It was then that he decided to start the group Stop The Killing.Today, Reed is a counsellor who works with at-risk youth, intervening in their lives before they can get involved with crime. Stop The Killing holds an annual anti-violence rally and also drives around in a converted ambulance called "the Life or Death Vehicle" that uses video games to teach young people to value life."Once God saved me from those streets, my mission was to go back and help others that are in the street to realize that if he did it for me, he can do it for you," he says. "It's not a job, it's a mission."
Reed also speaks at schools, has his own radio and TV shows, and has produced a documentary series, To Live and Die in Amerikkka, in which he tries to understand why young people are "growing up so violent."
The documentaries contrast video of kids shooting water guns at each other with uncensored scenes of police lifting a dead man into a body bag, funeral footage, and up-close video of an autopsy.Reed often carries a camcorder with him so he can show people what he sees everyday.One day he came across a crime scene where two kids in a car had been playing with a gun. The gun went off and shot a man in the car in the head. As police lifted his body out of the car, Reed started filming. "His brain fell out on camera," he recalls."And I looked at that over and over and God said, here's an opportunity to show the world what I see everyday with my own eyes."Between gang retaliation and disproportionate police violence toward African-Americans, Reed says people are fed up."They are sick and tired of seeing this happen to their loved ones," he told Democracy Now in an interview earlier this week. "And at the end of the day, we look at the backlash because we look at the violence that's taking place in our community. Stop The Killing has been an organization that says that black lives matter, but we also let them know that black lives have to matter to black people first.""We cannot continue to let this happen and give them a license to kill us and don't say anything," he concluded.Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont