Ryan Hendricks at the May 31st protest in Waterbury, Connecticut. Photograph by Terrence Bell
Story By John Murray
Ryan Hendricks lives in the Walnut area in the North End of Waterbury. A vacant lot separates the Hendricks from the back of a bodega, where drug sales are brisk, and sellers have an easy escape route from police.
It’s a tough neighborhood with boarded up homes, and opportunity and hope hard to come by. The Hendricks have a fence around their yard and they clean and maintain vacant lots on either side of their property. In the summer the Hendricks organize a block party on Walnut Avenue and they dig into their own pockets to feed 500 people BBQ jerk chicken, and they provide music, water slides and a bouncy house to the neighborhood children.
Ryan is a musician, a poet, owner of Fly Promotions, and his spoken word performance of “Dirty Water” at The Gathering in downtown Waterbury the past few years has been a hit.
As a young Black man in the hood, he is also a target. Ryan said he has been profiled by the Waterbury Police Department and estimates he is stopped six or seven times a year on Walnut Avenue and asked questions about where he lives, where he is from and what is he doing – sometimes when he is standing in his own yard. His car has been searched.
A few years ago, Ryan said he left his house to walk to the corner store to buy a bag of potato chips. On his way to the store the police rolled up, questioned him, words were exchanged, and seconds later Ryan was on the ground in handcuffs. Ryan used the traumatic experience to write a song, “Potato Chips”.
Being hassled by the police became so problematic that his mother set up a meeting with Police Chief Fred Spagnolo to address the situation.
A year ago, Ryan watched a Kerry Washington movie, America’s Son, about an 18-year-old Black man shot and killed by the Miami PD. The encounter was instigated by a bumper sticker on the rear of a car that said, “Shoot The Police”, and next to the words was an image of a camera. The bumper sticker was meant to shock and encourage the public to use their cell phone cameras to video encounters with police.
Actor Will Smith said recently that, “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.”
Ryan Hendricks was deeply moved by America’s Son and wrote a song, Shoot The Police #PoeticallySpeaking. Here is part of the lyrics…
“How do citizens like myself, that grow up in places that’s bad for our health
With sidewalks that are the canvases of white chalk and yellow tape,
And hooptie cars that have been the shelter for many scars and demolished faith, protect ourselves from invasion?
How do we protect ourselves from persuasion?
How do we protect ourselves from these barrels that’s pointed at our melanated skulls for simply being who we are? Or living in these trenches, where there’s no white picket fences, just sex money and murder.
How do we the people protect ourselves from these knees that’s causing us to plead, I can’t breathe?
I say, shoot the police.
I say pull out those iPhones and document every right and wrong. Show the people their motives. Show the people their slogans. We want accountability. It isn’t to educate, protect and serve. It’s manipulate and protect their word.”
After writing the song Ryan said he was, “scared of it. The title was too powerful, and a lot of things could be said.”
So, he sat on the song and didn’t release it. Ryan performed it once at a show to see how people would react and asked for feedback.
“Everyone loved it,” he said. “The title was negative, but the message was very positive.”
After George Floyd’s murder was videotaped in Minneapolis and America took to the streets to protest police brutality, and 350 years of institutional racism, Ryan began to reconsider his song.
While mulling it over there was a non-violent protest in Waterbury May 31st that Ryan wanted to attend. Unfortunately, he was scheduled to work that day in New Milford. The event began at 10 am and Ryan watched a Facebook Live feed of the event. When the crowd began marching through the streets he knew he had to join.
“I needed to be part of history,” he said. “So, I left my job and drove to Waterbury in a company car.”
Incredibly, as he was driving on I-84 East getting ready to exit by the Brass Mill Mall, a swarm of protesters flooded across the interstate and one of the first cars they stopped was driven by Ryan Hendricks.
“It was meant to be,” Hendricks said, “they came right to me.”
Electrified, Ryan climbed atop the company car and raised his fist in triumph. It was a powerful moment and his photograph appeared on the front page of the Republican-American the following morning. The photograph here was captured by Terrence Bell. After the protesters left the highway, Ryan turned around and went back to work. He was at the protest for 30 minutes.
“I ended up getting fired from my job for taking the company car and leaving,” he said. “ I did something wrong, but I had to be there.”
A few days later Ryan released his song and changed the title from Shoot The Police, to STP. “I don’t want any violence, and I don’t want anyone to get hurt,” Hendricks said. “ The police need body cameras and they need to be held accountable. The time for change is now.”
To listen to STP click the link below.