I met with Dirty Redd (Jon Holmes) & his manager Brian Lee at a local coffee shop on January 11, 2017, to discuss the inspiration and the mindset behind the song ‘Please Sir, Don’t Shoot’. There is a message in the music and the message is simple: it is 2017 and we want our children to live and our communities to thrive. But, I wanted to learn about the man behind the song and get a fuller perspective on his thoughts on how we as a people can make things better for ourselves.
Jon Holmes sat down with me just before 11:00 am and the conversation went as follows:
Tell us about yourself, your music and the song, ‘Please Sir, Don’t Shoot’.
OK. The song ‘Please Sir, Don’t Shoot’ came about in July of last year. Justus (Howell) was from Zion; he was killed by the police and his dad is my barber. I went in the studio, listening to some tracks and that song just came to me. It wasn’t nothing I was focused on, it wasn’t nothing I was trying to do. It just came to me.
Over the weeks of me studying and writing it, it came out how it did. And no, it wasn’t only about Justus, it was just about the scenario and what we all go through in life as a community in Lake County and I see a lot of violence in Cook County and I was just intrigued to make the song. Once I started, I couldn’t stop.
How did Justus Howell’s father feel about the song when he heard it?
He heard it. And me and him haven’t sat down and talked or nothing—he’s always busy cutting hair or something—but I did ask him about it and he was very happy that I made the song.
What was it like for you as a young man growing up? Do you see a difference between how you were raised and how kids are coming up now?
Well, I’m from a small town called Zion, Illinois. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin but I grew up in Zion, Illinois. Um, back then, we were all friends. Everybody knew each other, everybody was almost like family. You know, we could go over anybody’s house without any problem.
And nowadays, these kids don’t even know each other on the next block. They go to school with each other and still fight with each other when back when I was growing up we played with each other. Brian lived on one side of town and I lived on the other side of town, but we knew each other. And we’ve always been friends, and there were never any problems.
There were a few gangs out here, and yeah, I did grow up in that environment, but I didn’t promote it to the youth as far as this what you should do and how you should live. You know, I’m trying to bring the youth back together, and get them to grow up how we grew up. Knowing each other. Because you never know who you might need when you get older. A lot of my friends are successful from school and I wish I could reach out to them but they’re so far gone that I should have had that relationship and that bond with them when we were growing up. So, now I figure I give these kids today a chance to do something different than what I did.
I thought about my own life as a youth in North Chicago and the mistakes I made while Dirty Redd spoke. And then, I thought of Justus Howell. He was only seventeen years old when a bullet from a gun of a Zion police officer shot him in the back and claimed his life.
17. That is too young. Many brown and black youth aren’t guaranteed a future in this nation that promises life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all. But, though the promise may seem empty at times, the reality is that we are capable of making so much out of our lives for ourselves and each other. So tonight, and every night, I will be thanking God for life—lives lost, and the lives we have yet to live. I think if Justus Howell, Trayvon Martin, and Jaquon MacDonald would want this from each of us: to remember what they could have become and nurture that hope in each of us. Especially our youth.