Run the Jewels and Zack de la Rocha’s ‘Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)’ video stars a cop and an unarmed black kid
Run the Jewels have never shied away from tackling serious issues. Their acclaimed recent album “Run the Jewels 2″ touched upon all varieties of American sickness and hypocrisy, and Killer Mike’s moving speech the night a jury let officer Darren Wilson off scot-free for the murder of Michael Brown was one that we won’t soon forget. So it comes as no surprise that the music video for their Zack de la Rocha-featuring scorcher “Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)” would continue the conversation around racism, oppression, and resistance.
Directed by A.G. Rojas, the clip shows a white cop (played by Shea Whigham) and an unarmed black teen (Keith Stanfield) locked in a perpetual, violent, and exhausting struggle. Writes Rojas:
“When Run The Jewels sent me this track, I knew we had the opportunity to create a film that means something. I felt a sense of responsibility to do just that. We had to exploit the lyrics and aggression and emotion of the track, and translate that into a film that would ignite a valuable and productive conversation about racially motivated violence in this country. It’s provocative, and we all knew this, so we were tasked with making something that expressed the intensity of senseless violence without eclipsing our humanity. For me, it was important to write a story that didn’t paint a simplistic portrait of the characters of the Cop and Kid. They’re not stereotypes. They’re people – complex, real people and, as such, the power had to shift between them at certain points throughout the story. The film begins and it feels like they have been fighting for days, they’re exhausted, not a single punch is thrown, their violence is communicated through clumsy, raw emotion. They’ve already fought their way past their judgments and learned hatred toward one another. Our goal was to highlight the futility of the violence, not celebrate it.”
Does this seem a little too “kumbaya” to anyone else? As a metaphor for the “white cop vs. unarmed black kid” dynamic, it feels far too equal. In the real world, the power doesn’t “shift” and the violence isn’t “futile” or “senseless.” Rather, it serves a very specific purpose: To enforce state dominance over America’s economic underclass at all costs. One party is legally empowered to inflict violence on the other, but the “other” will be killed or jailed if he fights back. Their “learned hatred” comes from two very different places; the policeman is a member of an occupying force in the kid’s neighborhood, not reactive but aggressive; the kid hates the police like the neck hates the boot that’s stomping on it. For a song that name checks “The Anarchist Cookbook,” killing the police and the prison industrial complex (not to mention one that features the 1990s’ greatest radicalizer of middle schoolers), I expected something a tad more incendiary.
Then again: El-P and Killer Mike already know all this. Maybe by showing the kid and the cop as individuals within the video’s metaphor (if such a thing is not a contradiction of terms), they mean to remind us that these problems are bigger than any of the people caught up in them. Their statements on the video reflect this:
For El-P of Run the Jewels “this is a vision of a seemingly never-ending struggle whose participants are pitted against each other by forces originating outside of themselves.”
Adds partner Killer Mike “this video represents the futile and exhausting existence of a purgatory-like law enforcement system. There is no neat solution at the end because there is no neat solution in the real world. However, there is an opportunity to dialogue and change the way communities are policed in this country.”
It’s probably ultimately more “healing” for society to remember that cops are human too, even when they carry out state-sanctioned murders, although I’d like to remind you that “healing” does less for social progress than the looming threat of property destruction and Molotov cocktails. (Related: here’s a good article on why the cops as an entity can never be on the side of progress.) In any case, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling I’d like this video just a little bit better were it a wish-fulfilling dramatization of Killer Mike’s verse about Bloods and Crips uniting to take over a prison and waterboard the warden.