This week would have been Laquan McDonald’s 21st birthday. It won’t be though, because McDonald was 17 when he was shot 16 times and killed by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke in 2014. He was still a child when he died. His death is one of many that show that injustice and racism are still festering problems here in America. It shows that we are a country where far too many people still see black citizens–even black children–as a threat. The video and details of McDonald’s death affected scores of people, Canadian band The Noble Thiefs amongst them. The Noble Thiefs were so shaken by the incident that they took to music to process their feelings, creating the single “16 Candles.” Substream is honored to premiere “16 Candles” here today.

From the opening seconds of “16 Candles,” The Noble Thiefs pull no punches. The first words out of singer Myron Dean’s mouth are “He got 16 candles/then he got 16 shots.” There’s a simmering frustration throughout the song, as Dean sings about the myriad ways injustice is justified by those who perpetrate it. This anger and frustration runs through the growling guitar played by Riley Hastings, as well. The other emotion that stands out on “16 Candles” is a deep and profound sadness. Dean begs and hopes for things to change so we won’t have to mourn for young lives lost anymore.

Bassist Ian Lodewyks remembers the night “16 Candles” was conceived, saying “We were in the East Village, Manhattan, the night the footage of Laquan McDonald getting shot 16 times came out. The protest enveloped the band and influenced our newest single. As Canadians, it’s easy to sit idle and watch. It doesn’t affect you until it truly does.”

The lyric video for “16 Candles” is a powerful and heartbreaking companion to the song. A birthday cake–adorned with 16 candles–sits on its own. As the video progresses the cake crumbles and melts, as it no longer has anything to celebrate. It’s a simple concept, but the impression it makes is enormous.

You can listen to “16 Candles” by the The Noble Thiefs below. Dean summarized the entire experience by saying, “That night in the East Village we had a realization: No matter where you reside or who you are, police brutality affects us all.”

Van Dyke’s murder trial for the death of McDonald began yesterday morning. The Chicago Tribune has live updates.

noble thiefs

Photo Credit: Dwayne Larson