Joel Daniels, a.k.a. MaG, is a spoken word poet whose music is inspired by inequalities he’s seen living in the Bronx and in Manhattan. He talks about racial profiling by police and how people view him differently because of his skin color, a problem his white friends don’t have.
Joel: The neighborhood I work in in the South Bronx, the Mott Haven area, there is always a police presence because there are so many programs in that neighborhood: so like mental health programs, drug treatment programs, and reentry programs for individuals that got released from incarceration.
There have been sweeps where innocent people have been caught up, like say there’s been a crime committed in the building. If you’re in the vicinity of this block you may get swept up just because you’re standing there. You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.
New York City was definitely way more dangerous when I was growing up. It was like the Wild, Wild West in NYC.
They were definitely more aggressive, there was definitely a less tolerant police force. The police force now is sneakily tolerant.
There’s been an element created when you don’t feel safe, especially as a person of color, when you see multiple police officers. Like I don’t feel safe and that’s a problem. And I know the experience is maybe different for the Upper West Side white guy who grew up in NYC cause he hasn’t had to deal with those things.
I was walking to the bodega from my man Big’s crib to pick up some snacks or chips or some shit and this black, unmarked police car jumped the curb, lights blaring and everything, and jumped the curb and came about maybe two or three feet away from me. They hop out the car and pull out this picture of some miscellaneous person, a picture of a black person that supposedly looks like everybody and they grab my arm and they hold the picture up to me and they ask me if I’m this person. I’m like, “No this is not me.” They apologized, got back in the car and drove away, but that like fucked me up because it puts you in a constant state of fear.
Terri LaRocca: The idea that the police should have the total immunity what they want is absolutely reprehensible.
My son, de’d call me up, “I just got stopped and frisked again.” One time he reported other people breaking into a car. The police arrived while they were there and while they were leaving but they still stopped and frisked my son and my son does have a slightly more ethnic look than I do but not to that extent. He probably has been stopped and frisked seven times.
I’ve seen all sorts of situations where the perpetrator being a white male got away with it. You don’t want to ruin his family, what’s his family going to do for support, what would he do for his job. There’s a pity element there that doesn’t exist even for women.
Joel: Nothing about them screams friendliness though to me.
Poem (end): Diet Trim from the weight on my shoulders compressing me into a fetal missionary position because I feel our children our being raped by the future
As a teenager, Joel Daniels was robbed at knifepoint more than once. Growing up on Creston Avenue in the Bronx in the ‘90s, Joel describes the police that patrolled his neighborhood as being overly aggressive in their tactics, more so than today, when they’re more “sneakily tolerant,” of the people in the areas they watch over. Joel attended LaGuardia High School of the Performing Arts; he now acts and performs as a spoken word poet, MaG. His day job includes working with recently released Rikers’ inmates, many of whom struggle to find work and earn a living with limited education and a criminal record. One of the problems with being arrested for minor offenses as a kid, says Joel, is that it puts you in the system and marks you in the community; white kids can get a lawyer to erase their past mistakes, but minority kids are stuck.
Audience Engagement: twitter.com/StefaniJKim/status/542910130820771840
Outlets: The Guardian, Narratively