Gregory Poe is a soft-spoken 28-year-old from North Portland who stands about 5’5” and has an alter ego who comes across as twice as tall and many times more powerful.
But this Tuesday morning, days removed from having walked off the stage at Blue Monk and out of the club where he was supposed to perform, the soft-spoken Poe is beginning to feel the emotion that powers Illmaculate, his hip-hop persona who has won rap battles from here to Cincinnati to England.
“I would appreciate it if you would refer to me as Illmaculate the Great,” he says facetiously. The thing is. It’s not undeserved. After all, as Muhammed Ali said, ‘it ain’t bragging if you done it’ and Poe has racked up more than his share of accolades.
“Really, though, I just want to help figure this out. I don’t have the answers but I know some of the questions.”
It was Saturday night and Illmaculate was scheduled to take the stage at Blue Monk as part of a hip-hop bill that had been long scheduled. Things started to take a turn for the bad when the police and fire marshal showed up.
“It’s a little more than an hour in and I see the fire marshal going into the side rooms and checking everything out and talking to the promoter and the venue staff,” he says. “Shortly after, I see the gang task force filing into the room. And I’m not talking street officers with their blue uniforms, this was the gang task force with their street armor. They were lining up at the bottom of the stairs, at the merch table, at the back of the room.
“It didn’t take long for people to start asking why are they there? What’s going on?”
The answer to that question varied with the person who was asked.
Illmaculate says the club owner told him the fire marshal said it was a capacity issue. He heard from the promoter that one of the police officers claimed it was the gang affiliation of one of the performers.
People who went upstairs were told they couldn’t return, which included some people who were scheduled to perform with Illmaculate.
“At this point I start wondering how am I going to perform without the people that I need?” he says. “People were being separated from the groups they had come with – someone went to the bathroom, they couldn’t come back down. Someone went to get some fresh air, they were separated.
“Now before this, the vibe has been completely positive, there have been no incidents and things have been great. And you can feel things changing. The vibe had gone from good to bad.
“The officers – whether they meant to or not – were coming across as menacing, making the scene seem like a murder scene instead of a hip hop show. It was an overt, unnecessary display of authority.”
The tension rose to the point where Illmaculate decided he was not going to perform.
“I took to the stage and explained this was not a good environment. As a music fan it was not the kind of scene I wanted to be a part of and as a performer it was not something I wanted to ask of my fans.
“And I walked out.”
Soon after, he tweeted: “I will not perform in this city as long as the blatant targeting of black culture and minorities congregating is acceptable practice.”
He says it was sent in the heat of the moment. But…
“It’s hard to get a point across in 140 characters,” he says. “The fact is, though, we have to look at what’s going and how can we make things better?”
“The police, members of the hi-hop community, the black community, the communities of color, everyone, we all want the same thing,” he says. “We all want to live together in a world that’s safe. And we need to figure out how to make that happen.”
He says that Saturday night’s show had been promoted for months.
“If there were concerns, they should have come to us and talked about them,” he says. “If they were worried about who might show up, they should have said something ahead of time rather than showing up in a show of force.
“What kind of message does that send?”
He wants to see more conversations, more dialogue.
“None of this easy but the more we don’t talk, the worse things are going to get.”
It’s an assertion ringing true with increasing frequency.
Rodney DeWalt, owner of Club Fontaine Bleau, has put the city on notice that he intends to sue for discrimination, arguing that his club has been targeted because it serves the black community.
The fight over Trader Joe’s had the city and Portland Development Commission meet with members of the black community and then ignore their wishes. What made it more curious was the mayor and PDC executive director sent a letter in which they conceded PDC’s gentrification efforts over the years had had a “destructive” impact on the black community.
And then pretty much said that while that may be true, the community should trust them because they know what’s best.
Just last week, the police bureau released a detailed analysis of the stops they conduct of drivers and pedestrians.
In the words of the police:
“African Americans/Blacks were more likely to be stopped compared to both their Census and accident data estimates. This is the only racial/ethnic group in this analysis that is consistently stopped in greater proportion than their driving population would indicate. There were 1,296 more stops of African Americans/Blacks than we would expect given their approximate percentage of the driving population.”
The city auditor announced an investigation Tuesday into interactions between the police and people involved with hip-hop music and events.
“It’s like I said,” says Greg “Illmaculate” Poe. “We all want everyone to be safe. We just got to figure out how we can all work together to make that happen.
"We can make it better."