Scrolling through Instagram on a Wednesday night rarely has the ability to alter my day. But yesterday was different. Buried deep beneath my feed of selfies and sunsets was an open letter from Drake (or @champagnepapi to his followers), addressing the vexing shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man from Louisiana who was killed outside a Baton Rouge convenience store early Tuesday morning during an altercation with police.
An alarming video, shared widely online, shows two officers wrestling Sterling, who had been selling CDs outside the store, to the pavement. An anonymous person had called the police on Sterling after he had allegedly threatened the caller with his gun. As police tried to control Sterling on the ground, a police officer yells, “He’s got a gun!” Shortly thereafter shots are fired and the cell phone video turns quickly away from the violent interaction that would soon turn fatal. Five shots in total can be heard. (A different video from another angle shows Sterling being shot.)
In his Instagram post, Drake sends his condolences to the Sterling family and “any family that has lost someone to this cycle of violence”—a reference to police violence in America, a “second home” for the Canadian hip-hop artist. In 2015 alone, American police officers shot and killed nearly 1,000 civilians; in 2016, the number is over 500. According to TIME, Sterling was one of over 100 black men killed by police this year. “It’s impossible,” wrote Drake, “to ignore that the relationship between black and brown communities and law enforcement remains as strained as it was decades ago.”
After viewing the viral and graphic video of Sterling’s death, Drake, feeling “disheartened, emotional and truly scared,” wrote that he woke up with a “strong need to say something.”
Prior to this post, Drake had shared with his 25 million followers approximately 2,925 photos, none of which have addressed the number of black lives lost at the hands of often white officers. As far as my research goes, nowhere on his profile is a photo memorializing Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, or Eric Garner—all black men killed by police—or even a hashtag suggesting that black lives matter.
So, why now? I wondered. What made the rapper put a hold on his regularly scheduled content—that of lavish vacation photos starring himself, private planes, and diamonds—to post this? Drake, whose mother is Jewish and whose father is African-American, explained, he’s concerned. “Concerned for the safety of my family, my friends, and any human being that could fall victim to this pattern,” he wrote.
Drake also wrote, in perhaps the most profound line of the letter, that “no one begins their life as a hashtag. Yet the trend of being reduced to one continues”—a tragic irony given that just six hours after he posted the letter it won over 200,000 likes and nearly 5,000 comments, while #AltonSterling trends on Twitter worldwide.
There’s no telling what Drake might post next. What’s an appropriate follow-up to something like this? Certainly not a shot of his Lamborghini or a promo for his new whisky, though, come to think of it, it’s likely. The Drake brand must go on. But here’s to hoping that it’s not; that one of the most influential people in the world right now—a musician whose mixed racial background is a large part of his identity—uses his social media status to encourage his followers to take the first step toward having a more “open and honest dialogue.” Here’s to less bling and more activism, and maybe even change.
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Daniela is a journalist based in Brooklyn, originally from Texas. You can follow her on Instagram if you like.