By Bernal E. Smith II, firstname.lastname@example.org
Activist Frank Gotti, part of the Put Them Guns Down and Fight Like A Man Movement, visited The New Tri-State Defender on Wednesday, accepting the invitation of TSD online correspondent Esther Moore to share his perspective on recent events, including marches protesting police brutality and demanding changes. President and CEO Bernal E. Smith II led the interview session.
Bernal E. Smith II: You have evolved as someone who’s passionate about his community and become a voice for a lot of brothers and sisters in these streets who otherwise don’t have a voice. You’ve been thrust into this particular movement that’s happening in Memphis. Talk about how you evolved into this position with this particular protest and the movement.
Frank Gotti: Well, first off is God. I’m just one of God’s workers. I don’t have a certain religion. I just believe it’s a God. God works through me. I pray to him and ask him what should I do. I go by His way. I let him lead, and this is where he led me.
BS: So let’s go back to the march and protest that took place on Sunday and that ultimately resulted in taking the Hernando-Desoto Bridge. …How did we look up and from the rally at the FedExForum to the next thing you know, we’re on the bridge and now on national news. That was major. …Your estimation, how did we come to that?
FG: We started from the Civil Rights Museum at 5 o’clock. I called every gang member in Memphis, Tennessee out on my Facebook and told them we all need to come together; all the citizens, too. I told them we all needed to come together, and they wanted to come together. Let’s meet at the Lorraine Motel. The (National) Civil Rights Museum and Dr. King got a lot to do with Memphis, you know what I’m saying?
BS: No doubt about it.
FG: The other groups had planned to meet at the (FedExForum) but I said why would we meet at the FedExForum? We planned to meet at the Civil Rights Museum and when I got there…they were scattered out, but it was two or three hundred people just waiting on me.
FG: At first, I was kind of nervous. I’m going to tell you the truth. At first I was kind of nervous, and they could tell. I ain’t get straight on my bullhorn like I usually do wherever I go. I do a lot of things in the city and for people just on black-on-black crime; and the most numbers I’ve had is probably 50 to 70 people at my rallies. When I came in there, I said, “God, I got to step up and lead these folks.” Usually I have help, other people talking and stuff, but this time (I) got to make this happen with this large crowd on my own. I had a couple of people really helping me out; that was TNT and Scooby Cuts. They helped me out tremendously because they led the line with me. I brought it together, but they lead the line with me.
BS: So what happened next?
FG: …Five o’clock came; time was ticking on. I was like, “Man, it’s 5:20, it’s five twenty, I got to go on and give these people what they want, so I started talking. I was like, “Y’all ready to march?” … They were like, “That’s what we came here for.” I was like, “Well, let’s do it.” I told you, we were going to march to the FedEx and join the Black Lives Matter people just to show them that we had come out in support of the overall effort.
BS: Right, and to where did that lead?
FG: We walked down Main Street mostly. I remember looking back and our numbers were getting bigger, so I could tell people were either late or people were just joining in as we walked. By the time we had got right to the (FedEx)Forum, I could see the Black Lives Matter protest, a lot of people were sitting down, waiting. They were sitting down, like, “Where everybody at? Nobody here.” Then they saw how deep we came around that corner. They were like, “Oh.” They joined in with us. The Black Lives Matter leadership wasn’t there when we first got there. We gathered in front of the FedExForum and we started talking and stuff. That’s when what’s …the young man showed up.
BS: Who, Devante Hill?
FG: Yeah, Devante. That’s when he came out of nowhere. He was trying to tell us … He had talked to the mayor and the police. He’s the one that got this together and this and that. We were like, “We’re not knocking you for that. We appreciate that,” but I was like this the city though. It ain’t about who brung this together. It’s about us being together as one.
BS: Right. I was curious about that because it seemed like there weren’t any sort of turf issues or anybody trying to take specific credit for it. It seemed like it was a lot of different groups who really came together at the end of the day in terms of making what ultimately happened a reality. I thought that in itself was just super, it was rather magical for Memphis.
FG: Yes, sir. But, I’m (gonna) be truthful, it was a lot of confusion right then and there because he had a bullhorn and he wanted his voice to be heard, and of course I had one as well. I was being considerate, letting whoever wanted to speak, speak. He was like, “Man, my batteries low. …Man, let me use your bullhorn.” I told him, I said, “Man, your battery is low for a reason.”
BS: (LOL) Right, so did you share you bullhorn?
FG: Yes. I said, “You can see my bullhorn brother,” but once I gave him the bullhorn … I seen the supporters and the citizens and the people of Memphis, they was like, “Man, get that bullhorn out his hands,” just to be honest. That’s what everybody was saying. “Man, get him from down there, man. We came here for you.” … Then I was like, “It ain’t about me. It’s about all of us,” and I was explaining it to them. It ain’t no one-person show. It’s all of our shows, see what I’m saying?
BS: Yes, I do. That was tremendous leadership. Let me say, it takes a real man to stand up and not necessarily let it be about you but let it be about us and about the greater good for everybody. Let me just take my hat off to you for showing that kind of leadership because that shows some maturity and definitely somebody whoaw vision and passion is in the right place.
FG: Yes, sir. From that point then finally everybody was there. They talked. Then the march starts again.
BS: So I take it everything was smooth from that point forward and you began the march towards the bridge?
FG: No! We was disagreeing when were going to start marching. Devante was like, “Guys, it’s not time to go right now.” I was like, “Well, the people are ready to go.” He was like, “Nah, we gotta go at a certain time, the police scheduled street closing for us and it’s planned out specifically.” The people was like, “Man, we ready to go now.”
BS: So there was a little conflict between all the various parties and factions that showed up?
FG: Everybody comes to me, “Gotta get your bullhorn out his hands.” I’m like, “Man, give me the bullhorn.” I don’t want these people to be against you. I got the bullhorn and everybody was still on there. I was like, “Y’all ready? Let’s go.” When I left, I just seen a whole crowd. They were right behind me. Don’t get me wrong, Devante, he did his part. He led the line, too. He did a great job. He did a great job. The city of Memphis done a greater job because when we were marching and on that bridge, there wasn’t no murders committed in the city of Memphis that night.
BS: You have a point, the event was violence free and so was the city for the most part and certainly there were no murders.
FG: That should mean something to everyone.
BS: Absolutely! It was powerful to me as I began to see so many different people who generally, traditionally don’t hit off with one another. I don’t care if it was GDs and Vice Lords, Bloods, Crips, whatever. Whether it was fraternities and sororities, blacks and whites, professionals, gangsters and hustlers … everybody was out there together. It was love. I think that was really the most powerful image that we sent not only to Memphis but we sent to the world. The world was looking at that. That was on national and international television and of course all over the Internet. There were a lot of people in the city, unfortunately, who I think – based on some of their feedback, I believe wanted something negative to occur during this peaceful rally.
FG: I always believe all of us equal, no matter who got the most money or who got the biggest house; all of us equal at the end of the day. Some people, just blessings came faster or they worked on their blessing. You can’t judge a book by its cover is really what I’m trying to say. You just can’t.
(View the interview in its entirety at tsdmemphis.com.)