Pharrell Williams wades into the Ferguson debate

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Musician Pharrell Williams performs onstage during A VERY GRAMMY CHRISTMAS at The Shrine Auditorium on November 18, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.

Because I'm happy / Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof . . .

- Pharrell Williams

 

I'LL BET Pharrell Williams, known for the song of the year, isn't happy he waded into a heated national discussion about the incident of the year.

I'm not too crazy about it myself.

In this month's issue of Ebony, he responded to an interviewer's question about a convenience-store video that purportedly shows Michael Brown stealing cigarillos just before his deadly run-in with Ferguson, Mo., Police Officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9.

"It looked very bully-ish; that in itself I had a problem with," Williams told the magazine about the video. "Not with the kid, but with whatever happened in his life for him to arrive at a place where that behavior is OK. Why aren't we talking about that?"

Yeah, he went there.

Williams, the performer with the goofy hats who sings "Happy," touched a proverbial third rail in the Ferguson saga.

In doing so, the singer/songwriter/producer echoed what a lot of folks already think about Brown's actions on that infamous tape. Brown does look menacing as whatever happened between him and the store owner went down. There's no sound on it, so we only have part of the story.

But nothing excuses what happened shortly after Wilson spotted Brown jaywalking. The exact series of events is in dispute. All we know for sure is that Wilson killed an unarmed teenager. I see no justification for that, even if Wilson believed that he "looked like a demon."

"Michael Brown was a human being . . . who didn't deserve to be shot on his own street," said James Peterson, a commentator and founder of Hip Hop Scholars.

Williams' Ebony interview reportedly took place in September - well ahead of Monday's controversial grand-jury decision not to indict Wilson. The announcement that Wilson, who is white, wouldn't face criminal charges for killing Brown, who was black, sent shock waves around the country, prompting rioting and protests.

Outcries continued yesterday as demonstrators marched into stores and urged shoppers to boycott Black Friday sales. Many who otherwise might have been at the stores stayed away in solidarity.

"Something inside of me won't let this go," said Mannwell Glenn, a Philly-based political consultant who helped popularize a local #noblackfriday boycott.

I know what he means.

I can't stop thinking about it either. Nor can many of my friends, some of whom shared with me how their families had grappled with the issue around their Thanksgiving tables.

In the Ebony interview, the subject of Bill Cosby's social criticisms of black people also came up - to which Williams said: "When Cosby said it back then, I understood; I got it. Listen, we have to look at ourselves and take action for ourselves."

But he added: "I believe that Ferguson officer should be punished and serve time. He used excessive force on a human being who was merely a child. He was a baby, man."

Williams' playing both sides of the issue didn't spare him an Internet backlash. Some critics already had been looking at him side-eyed for an interview earlier this year when he told Oprah Winfrey that "the new black doesn't blame other races for our issues."

Williams is no modern-day Harry Belafonte.

But at least he's trying.

When it comes to music, he's one of the more positive artists on the scene - even if he and Robin Thicke did sue soul legend Marvin Gaye's estate amid claims they allegedly stole some of Gaye's music. I've heard that he has reached out to well-known scholarly types seeking intellectual guidance on social activism and other issues.

He could use it.

And that's nothing to feel happy about.

 


On Twitter: @JeniceArmstrong

Blog: ph.ly/HeyJen

 

Email: armstrj@phillynews.com