A white policeman tussles with an unarmed black man in the video for Run the Jewels and Zack de la Rocha's new video, "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)," echoing the recent high-profile police-versus-civilian deaths including Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
After brief cameos by the three rappers, the clip's two protagonists square off, tackle one another and wrestle around in a heated showdown that lasts until nightfall...and into a residence...and into more private quarters within the home. Throughout it all, neither character reaches for the policeman's gun. It's a unique scene for the Run the Jewels 2 song in which Killer Mike raps, "When you niggas gon' unite and kill the police, motherfuckas?"
"This video represents the futile and exhausting existence of a purgatory-like law enforcement system," Killer Mike said in a statement. "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."
"This is a vision of a seemingly never-ending struggle whose participants are pitted against each other by forces originating outside of themselves," El-P said.
The video's director, AG Rojas (who's previously made clips for Spiritualized and Earl Sweatshirt), explained in a statement that he felt a sense of responsibility to make a video that means something to match the song. "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," he wrote. "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."
Rojas tasked himself with creating characters that were not stereotypes, but complex individuals each stymied by their own clumsiness. "Our goal was to highlight the futility of the violence, not celebrate it," he wrote. The scenario led to what he described as an "emotional shoot day" that affected the crew and actors (Shea Whigham of Boardwalk Empire and and Keith Stanfield of Selma and the forthcoming N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton).
"I believe that it is important that the way we feel when we see these events in real life has an effect on us," Rojas wrote. "That we resonate with what we know to be right and we don't numb ourselves out so those feelings can simply be swept away, we must confront them and take some action, however small, or we'll be stuck in the same cycle of violence and hate."
The members of Run the Jewels have long been open about their feelings regarding the abuse of authority. Killer Mike wrote a powerful essay about the Michael Brown shooting last August. And, in November, when a grand jury revealed it would not be indicting the police officer who shot Brown, Mike tweeted, "I have seen many times a suspect run, get tired and turn around to surrender. I am not convinced." Days later, he contributed to an op-ed about rap lyrics and the justice system. Most recently, both members sat with preteens for a video in which they talked about topics ranging from weed to jail.