From continuously marching with protestors to getting on stage at civic center park to share his voice, Denver’s Kent Washington has made his presence felt during the charged events of the past few months. The talented MC has taken his words beyond the page and turned them into action, showing that Denver’s hip hop community is active and participating outside of the musical realm in order to ensure that their voices are heard. For this article, I got the chance to speak with Washington as a part of a new collaboration between the Denver hip hop blog JIGGY Hip Hop and the Denver-based politics & hip hop podcast Politickin’ With Eddie, and we discussed how the city has reacted to the recent events and what this movement looks like going forward.
The seedling of this conversation started when Kent and I ran into each other during one of the protests outside the State Capitol building, a serendipitous encounter that made us both realize there was more to be said than a five minute talk could provide. Washington had been making his presence felt since the beginning of the protests and had been in contact with organizers as well as on the front lines himself, an exhausting experience that took a physical toll as well as a mental one. The day we met was a day full of passion and rightful anger, an energy that Washington felt was important to maintain throughout the life of these protests and this movement. During our brief talk at the moment, it truly did feel like that vigor would continue.
Our more formal conversation happened just a week or two after that day, and the tone seemed to have already shifted. While Washington could still feel the broad energy of the movement, he commented on how he was worried Denver itself was becoming too “kumbaya”, as evidenced by Mayor Hancock linking arms with protesters and marching in the streets. Even though Washington understands the allure of getting such a well known public figure on board with the movement, the fear is that these moments are meant to placate the people without enacting true reform. City officials such as Mayor Hancock need to be held accountable after years of inaction, and a photo op does not make him an ally. Kent feels that in a city with such a terrible (and often overlooked) past when it comes to police brutality, symbolic gestures do nothing and only serve to further the status quo.
Denver isn’t the only city in the metro area to have a long history of awful policing. The Aurora Police Department is now nationally infamous for their disgraceful police work, most notably the murdering of Elijah McClain. When asked about McClain’s death, Washington spoke about how it was such a tragedy, but also mentioned that none of the officers involved have been charged with a crime. The Aurora PD has also failed to show any remorse during the entire situation, with officers even mocking McClain and his death in a recent photo. Even though McClain’s death didn’t get the attention Washington thought it deserved when it happened, he is glad to see it spreading nationally and he hopes it shines light into the dark history of both the Denver and Aurora Police Departments.
If there’s one thing Kent wanted to highlight, it’s that these conversations must continue. This movement can’t be a flash in the pan and we can’t let the momentum die down just for another innocent black American to be killed at the hands of the police. These protests shouldn’t stop until true reform takes place, and symbolic gestures shouldn’t be enough to slow down systemic changes that are necessary in order to create a lasting impact.
Big thanks to Kent Washington for sitting down and talking about these topics. Be on the lookout for more in this series highlighting Denver hip hop and it’s intersection with politics.