Local hip-hop artist Nick “Knowledge Nick” Hicks didn’t anticipate that when he organized the October installment of the popular "Trolley Night Cypher Series" event last Friday, it would be ended by angry Memphis police officers holding night-sticks and pepper spray.
On Friday, October 25th, Hicks and around 50 other folks gathered in front of the K’PreSha clothing boutique in the South Main Arts District to participate in the cypher (an event that involves people freestyling one after another). The event followed the South Main Art District’s monthly Art Trolley Tour Night, during which art galleries and shops offer art shows and other special events such as live entertainment.
Hicks said everything appeared to be going fine until around 10:30 p.m. (past the usual Trolly Night hours of 6 to 9 p.m.) when MPD officers approached K’PreSha and requested for the group to end the cypher in an aggressive manner. He said the officers didn't explain why they wanted them to end the gathering initially. But subsequent to onlookers beginning to record the incident with their phones, the officers stated that they had received a noise complaint.
“First the police officers were like ‘You guys need to get on the sidewalk.’ Once we got on the sidewalk, everybody started pulling out their phones and filming,” Hicks said. “Once we started doing that, they started telling us that we need to leave or get inside K’PreSha.”
Shortly after the officers requested for them to end the cypher, one of its participants jokingly made a comment that the officers didn’t take too kindly.
“My partner, he was just playing. He was like, ‘Let me see your license and registration,’” Hicks said. “The police got mad, super aggressive, and they tried to arrest my partner. Another guy was out there trying to break up the police and [my friend], and the police were roughing the dude up. They were manhandling him, and they pushed him against the car."
When the commotion ended, two people had been arrested and many more were upset and in disbelief at the way MPD officers handled the situation. Hicks said he believes that the MPD didn’t like that there was a crowd of predominantly black people doing hip-hop. He believes the situation would have panned out differently if they were indulging in another genre of music or the crowd was more diverse.
“I’ve seen police brutality and harassment on TV, but seeing it and experiencing it in person, you have no idea how much of an experience it was,” Hicks said. “It was so tough to watch, and we almost felt like black kids in the '60s. These people brought nightsticks out, and we were unarmed. They used pepper spray, but for what reason? My thing was, we’re unarmed people at a positive event, and you guys come here [and act] aggressively. You come here [and act] defensively. And then you come here [and act] hostile. And all this was caused by you guys. There were like 13 police cars down there and like 15 or 20 cops for this whole ordeal, but this was because we were rapping. We were just rapping.”
Hicks is determined to bring awareness to MPD’s conduct. He organized a town hall meeting at K’PreSha the Sunday following the event to make his peers more aware of the rights they can exercise if they encounter a similar situation with law enforcement. The media was invited to the meeting, camera phone-captured videos of the incident were shown, and some of those who were in attendance at the cypher expressed their thoughts.
Video footage of the occurrence has also been featured on several local media outlets. And Hicks has even had a candid conversation with Lt. Dale Hensley of the South Main Police Station about the incident.
“I told him the situation should have been handled differently,” Hicks said. “‘All of the ruckus was caused by you guys. You brought all these cops out here, all these cars out here, to arrest two people just because we were rapping and expressing ourselves. Clearly, [videos] show we weren’t being rowdy. And clearly, it was a peaceful event, but you guys came out here causing hell.’”
Hicks said although Lt. Hensley provided him with a verbal apology on behalf of the officers, he won’t be satisfied until the MPD provides a written statement that both conveys their regret for their conduct and accountability for their actions. He thinks this will potentially lower the chances of a similar situation taking place in the future.
“When I think about Friday night, I think about the two hours of everybody having fun, doing their thing, and people just coming and watching,” Hicks said. “But at the same time too, it’s like, we’re still fighting this oppression from the police force. As hip-hop artists or artists in general, we are a voice for the voiceless and now we have to go another step to do the same thing when it comes to this issue right here and really push the boundary and be a voice for the voiceless who have experienced this, or may be afraid to step up, or just lost hope. The same logic I have with music, I’m using to parallel it with getting a change done with this situation.”