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INTERVIEW: Why Pro Wrestler ‘MVP’ Made the Trip to Ferguson | The Nation

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Dave Zirin

Dave Zirin

Where sports and politics collide.

INTERVIEW: Why Pro Wrestler ‘MVP’ Made the Trip to Ferguson

Pro wrestler Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP)

Pro wrestler Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP) made the trip to Ferguson as himself, “as Hassan.” (Wikipedia commons)

His name is Hassan Hamin Assad. But pro wrestling fans know him as Montel Vontavious Porter, otherwise known as MVP. In a sporting spectacle known for its profoundly backward representations of African-Americans, MVP has always chosen to showcase himself as a man of intelligence and confidence that—when playing the villain—could morph into grandiose cockiness. This past week, MVP—“acting as Hassan,” as he said to me, made the decision to travel to Ferguson, Missouri, the site of the police killing of Michael Brown and subsequent clashes with a shockingly militarized police force. I was able to speak with MVP while he was in Ferguson about why he felt compelled to make the journey.

DZ: Why did you, MVP, decide to make this trip to Ferguson?

MVP: Because, I was sitting on the couch, watching the footage coming in.… And, I’ve been saying this over and over, I just got tired of shaking my fist at the TV. My biggest issue was watching the militarized St. Louis County Police come in with a heavy-handed approach, to peaceful protesters. Media blackout, arresting journalists, and I just felt like I had to speak up about our Constitution being trampled on and our constitutional rights being violated.

You’ve now been there a couple of days, what’s your sense of what’s happening on the ground?

I’ve had had the opportunity to speak to a lot of the local residents who were there in the chaos. One guy who was actually, according to him, beaten up by the police in the process. And last night was extremely calm, there were peaceful protests… no violence. But there was no police presence. Earlier in the evening, there were a few black police officers, and I think the local police chief—it was, I think, a minimized police presence. The night, as it got darker and as it got later there were even less police. And, I’m sad to say, that much, much later in the evening—probably around 1 am—a few police responded to minor incident at a McDonald’s. There was nothing going on and they left. They didn’t bother anyone, and as they were leaving, some were throwing rocks and bottles at the police cars as they left. Which is counterproductive to do, but unfortunately you always have that angst.

So what’s your analysis of the approach of the police?

I‘ll paraphrase, because I believe the quote was that the St. Louis County Police Department… they hadn’t even had the opportunity to drill for that type of situation. So, what I think you have is a bunch of overanxious individuals with improper training responding to a situation not knowing how to do so. And as seen in some of the video that’s still shot as well as the accounts of some of the people who were there, you had officers on hand who were—instead of de-escalating the violence were intentionally escalating it. Mocking the citizens, there’s a still photo that I saw of some of the officers with their hands up… The major chant [of the protest] has been “Hands up, don’t shoot.” And there’ve been people walking up and down the street with their hands up and T-shirts that say “Hands up, don’t shoot.” Because allegedly, according to eyewitness accounts, Mike Brown had his hands up in a surrender position when he was shot. And there’s actually a still photo floating around that I saw, and a number of individuals related that they saw firsthand of officers raising their hands up, mocking the protesters and the “Hands up, don’t shoot” pose. That’s not professional, that’s not an attempt to de-escalate violence. There was talk of officers calling them animals. From what I understand it was just a complete lack of professionalism and leadership. Before this, where were the local community leaders? Where was the governor? Where was the mayor? Where was the city council? Where were the people who should have stepped in and called for peace? Where were the people who should have stepped in and said, “Wait a minute, this is not how we handle these sort of situations.”

Speaking of leadership, I don’t know if you knew this or not, MVP, but you are the first person from the world of athletics to actually make the trip to Ferguson and offer solidarity to what’s happening there. Were you aware of that, and are you actually trying to be an example for others to try to leverage their fame to bring attention to what’s happening there?

Well, I wasn’t aware of that, and I think it’s rather unfortunate. I can kind of understand why people wouldn’t want to get involved, but that’s part of my position… I’m so tired of apathy. I got tired of tweeting about it, I got tired of shaking my fist at the TV screen and talking about it. I didn’t come here as MVP, I came here as Hassan, a guy who wanted to stand up for my civil rights and everyone else’s. And if my visibility as MVP can bring more attention to the violation of civil rights and the trampling of the constitution, then that’s cool too. But I didn’t come as a “celebrity” or as a pro athlete, I just came as a citizen that was fed up.

I have to ask: you have always been a strong African-American character in an industry that does not have, to put it mildly, a history of strong African-American characters. Do you feel like you’re also making a statement to the world of professional wrestling that African-Americans need to be treated with more respect and less dehumanization than we’ve seen over the l decades?

While I wholeheartedly agree with your last statement, that thought never crossed my mind, actually. So, one had nothing to do with the other. What I said to a few people in Ferguson was, while the incident might have been set off by a racial distrust, disharmony, discord… whatever you want to call it. It quickly escalated to something much than that. In just this last month there were four African-American men who were unarmed and killed by police. I think that it has to be a conversation about use of force, use of deadly force, and excessive use of force. I think that, and I want to make this very clear, my father was a cop, my brother’s a cop, my sister-in-law’s a cop. I’m the black sheep in a family of cops. I understand how difficult the job is. I also understand that with great power comes great responsibility, and police officers have to be held to a higher standard because we entrust our society to their care. The problem is, when you deal with humans you deal with the frailty of the human psyche and the human ego, and people make mistakes. But when those mistakes are made, somebody has to be held accountable. And in this particular case, we don’t have all of the facts in yet about why this young man was shot, and whether the officer’s life was in jeopardy or whether it was justifiable, but eyewitnesses say that he turned with his hands up, and was surrendering, and was shot multiple times. If that is in fact the case, then somebody has to answer for that. And these other cases across the country… I’m not saying that all cops are bad. There are many who would like to say that. But I believe that you’re complicit by inaction if you witness something illegal take place and you don’t take a step to correct it.

Last question, and I wasn’t going to ask you this, but given that you come from a family of African-American police officers, and given that you’re clearly attuned to these issues it seems appropriate: How big a problem do you think we have in this country of racism in the police departments of the United States, racism in the criminal justice system of the United States? How big of a problem is there that needs to be confronted?

Wow. You got an hour? There are people who often, say, “Racism doesn’t exist anymore.” And, “Nobody’s racist anymore.” And, to that I say, all you have to do is go on Youtube and read the comments. That will tell you just how racist people will be if they can’t be called out on it. Where nowadays, racism isn’t as overt as, say, fifty years ago. It still exists, and I’m not just talking about white against black racism. There’s black against white racism. There’s Jewish against Muslim racism… All people, all cultures have some sort of racism. It’s a cultural thing and I think that part of the issue is that people aren’t necessarily taking the steps to be understanding and aware of other cultures. I think that people are willfully ignorant of other cultures, and black people, white people, Asian people… everybody’s guilty of it. And I don’t think, in the near future, we’re going to see racism disappear. In the criminal justice system, of course it exists. Just look at the disparity in sentencing between people who deal crack cocaine and people who deal powder cocaine. We know that crack cocaine is prevalent in the African-American communities and powder cocaine is a lot sexier, and it’s a little more expensive and therefore used by more affluent people. But if you’re caught with crack cocaine, the same amount of crack cocaine versus powder cocaine, your sentence is—I think—five times more severe. There’s something to be said for that. I think that there is racism, just recently I believe in Florida there were two of three cops that were fired from the department because they were exposed to be active members of the Ku Klux Klan. It exists. You can’t deny that it exists, but racism is due to an unevolved thinking and as a society, as a human race, we have to become evolved thinkers. Our thinking has to evolve with our technology and everything else. If you don’t like somebody because of the God that they worship, or because of the color of their skin… there’s something wrong with you, not them. But, I’ll also say this, we don’t—and when I say “we,” I’m talking about the African-American community, the inner city—a dialogue has to be had with young black men about how to communicate with white police officers specifically. You don’t escalate the situation by saying, “Hey, man, why you fuckin’ with me?” You have to be able to communicate, and I think it happens on both sides. You have cops who, unfortunately, don’t de-escalate the situation and, by the same token, [young black men] don’t de-escalate the situation. And they say, “You know, I’m tired. I’m fed up with being racially profiled.” OK, when you’re being taken into custody, at that moment, that’s not the time to protest. That’s not the time to resist arrest. That’s not the time to cuss the cop out. Your best bet is to just be as polite as possible and go file a report or go do whatever you can within the proper channels. And as we know often enough, it gets swept under the rug. But if it happens enough, something has to be done.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

At this point, man, I want to make it very clear. They’re showing the video now about Michael Brown and the cigars that he stole and the shop owner who he apparently had a physical altercation with during that theft. However, now it’s being revealed that the officer who stopped him had absolutely no idea that he was involved in that crime. And, just because of that, I’m hearing people saying, “Oh, well now we have to take a look at this in an entirely different light.” Let’s not be distracted from the issue at hand—excessive use of force. And, that leading to an overt trampling of our Constitution. Even if you are the most overt racist and you are glad that Michael Brown is dead, another young dead nigger… that makes you happy… you can’t be happy about the response of the police department coming in and saying, “As of this moment, the constitution is not valid. It’s a media blackout, we’re arresting journalists who try to take our pictures. We’re going to ban satellite trucks from the area. There’s a no-fly zone so media helicopters can’t report on the situation.” This affects you too. This affects everyone. And, you know what? Today, it’s someone else’s kid, it’s someone else’s neighborhood. Tomorrow it could very easily be your kid and your neighborhood.

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