High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race — Jazmyn Alexander

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

Poet and teacher Sarah Marcus with her high school students.

A note from Series Editor Sarah Marcus: Born from a powerful in-class discussion that we had about gender, race, and the role of masculinity in rape culture, “Be A Man/Be A Woman” poems are an analysis of gendered personal experience and a study of our intersectionality. This poetry series was inspired by a HuffPost essay I wrote called, “Why I Teach Feminism at an Urban High School.” The poets featured here are students from my 12th Grade Resistance Writing class whose work I found to be brave, fearless, and progressive. Please help me support their crucial and influential voices.

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Jazmyn Alexander is a senior poet in my Creative Writing class. She loves hair, hanging out with friends, shopping, and reality T.V. shows. To be perfectly honest, Jazmyn and I got off to a rough start this year, but as the year progressed, Jazmyn felt incredibly connected and engaged with the material that we were learning. She says, “Before this class, I really didn’t care about feminism or women being treated poorly in the media. I didn’t pay much attention. I just thought a woman being degraded was the norm. When we learned about it, I felt like women have so much more to offer than being objectified for men. And we’re beautiful; we don’t have to get naked to show that we’re beautiful.”

Jazmyn’s rap is incredibly powerful. She addresses the wrongful deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown. She says: “Writing this rap came easy. I knew I wanted to tell a story about justice. I wanted to stick to one person for each verse.” I feel especially connected to this poem’s chorus. I love the way it subverts our conception of what a contemporary rap encompasses.

See Jazmyn read her poem here.

He’s Gone

Verse 1:
Now Trayvon walkin down the street, swagged out with a hood and J’s on his feet.
Ain’t doing nothing but lookin at his phone, no worries but it was gone be a long way home.
He wasn’t ready for what was comin, if he only knew that he was gone get into somethin.
Tryna fight… for his life, with Zimmerman on his back he knew that something wasn’t right.
So he kept on walking, noticed he was being followed so he started talking…
The man was cruel, knew what he wanted to do.
With all the break-ins on his street this was a justice move.
Tray’s girl on the line, she wanna know if it’s okay, is it all fine?
He let her know, he had to call back, time to fight for his life cus he under attack.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Tray lost his precious life to a bullet hole
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Trayvon is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

Verse 2:
Then there was Eric too, chilled on the block listening to the humming blues.
He didn’t know how this day would go… Wasn’t knowing that he wasn’t gonna make it home.
Then a fight broke out, he tried to break it up but he got struck out.
(Make noise) he gasp for air, I can’t breathe, please let me go, please let me go
Cus I can’t breathe!
The police they choked him tight, aware of his asthma as he gasped for his life.
They didn’t care, they didn’t stop
Black man down, was the evidence that they got.
Taking this man’s life away, the public watched like dim to a brighter day.
This gotta end, where do we begin?
Rest in peace… Tray, Eric, Mike, and all black men.

Chorus:
And he’s gone, Eric lost his precious life to a choke hold
Not smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on somethin’
But the color of his skin showed that his life wasn’t nothing

And he’s gone
Yeah he’s gone
And he’s gone
Eric is gone

And wasn’t smokin’ on nothin’, nor sippin’ on something
But the color of his skin showed his life wasn’t nothing, alright.

We Can’t Breathe

Student Protest #BlackLivesMatter

High school students in Cleveland protest for #BlackLivesMatter

We Can’t Breathe

Cleveland high-school students respond to state violence.

An introduction from teacher and project coordinator Sarah Marcus:

I never wanted to be a teacher. It took some weathering to arrive here. Years of resisting the inevitable. Growing up, entitled and drug addicted, I was quite vicious to my own teachers. I couldn’t wait to “get out.” But, at some point, we become aware that people are watching us.

I am impossibly lucky to get to work with students at an urban high school in Cleveland, Ohio. It turns out that their determined spirit is the chant I told my child-self to remember. They remind me every day why our actions matter. They remind me to be patient and to be generous. They remind me why it’s important to stay in a place that is struggling. Because if we leave, who will be there to help advocate?

Black Lives Matter. Reverse racism does not exist. You will not find me saying “All Lives Matter.” The problem isn’t with the words themselves. They make sense, all lives should matter. But the reality on the ground is that they don’t. Not here. Not right now. The evidence is suffocating (literally). Because racism is institutionalized, All Lives Matter is a misguided response to Black Lives Matter. It works to soften the truth, to bury it, to make it more bearable. This is a terrible mistake. We should not be allowed to swallow this injustice. It hurts on purpose. More insidiously, All Lives Matter works to completely negate Black Lives Matter. This is the way we rewrite history. The way we forget on purpose.

As a white, Jewish woman I can’t even begin to pretend to know or relate to what my kids are up against. I speak from a place of privilege. I can only guide them to use their voices. I can only teach them about civil disobedience. I can only encourage them to write and speak, because they matter. They matter so much. My whole heart is filled with gratitude as I stand beside them while they walk through this messy, dangerous world with such dignity and grace.

The following is a collection of creative student responses to the recent extrajudicial killings and the deep-rooted issues that continue to plague our communities.

We mourn for the family of Clevelander Tamir Rice. We mourn for all of the families touched by this abhorrent abuse of power. We won’t hold our breath. We will fill their air with song.

– Sarah Marcus, Cleveland teacher and poet

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“Premonitions” of Hope

Perspective is one of the most important things you are granted in life. It’s the opinion you have that no one can understand unless they’re you. Being a young black man from inner city Cleveland your perspective is to feel hopeless. Our school system and economical position continuously shows us we aren’t meant to have any self worth. I’ve grown up in a society that feels hopeless. Like their meaning of life is nothing more than what they have been told their whole lives. Rather, it’s on TV, in movies, or in reality that their lives don’t matter. The reason the Mike Brown and Eric Garner cases are so pivotal is because it’s people telling us through the legal system that the worth of black lives isn’t even jail time for a murder. They justify murder through personifications like “he was a hoodlum” or “he disobeyed the law” like asking “why” to a man putting handcuffs on you is reason for murder. They say things like “it’s a black president” to set precedent for inequality, but acting if change is really happening. It’s deeper than a life. It’s a statement. We look at the problem and say “how?” We live in a world where there is almost no black heroes from the streets to comic books, and black men have a murder rate from police that is 6 times higher than whites when we’re 1/3 of the population. It’s been almost 50 years since segregation, yet we protest and profess pain like it’s 1968. It’s 2014, yet we march and fight for our lives to be equal as one that is white. Malcolm X once said, “if you stick a knife in 6 inches and pull it out 3 inches you can’t act like the problem has been resolved.” The problem, the cause, and the solution is that it’s deeper than police brutality, it’s deeper than the wrong decisions. The problem is for 150 plus years, equality between the lives that are black and white seems like fiction. That’s the reason there is so much black crime and the reasons why we feel worthless and hurt, because we’ve been fighting since we were slaves and obviously…… no one hears us.

– DeJuan Rocius Brooks, a human being, also class of 2015

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I CAN’T BREATHE!!

I can’t breathe…
gasping for air while I’m on my knees,
feeling like I’m dying from a severe disease
YELLING FOR HELP BUT THERE IS NO ONE I SEE!!
Please…
I CAN’T BREATHE!!
It’s killing me, its killing me!
This disease that’s constantly hurting me,
is …
well, …
SOCIETY…

My mother, my father,
my sister, my brother…
Not just “my”…
Why?
Why can’t we all be together?
You see, the world looks out for themselves…
Everyone wants to make it home,
Who would ever want to be alone?

Racism?
Really? Is that still going on?
Is it true the ones they want us to look up to and respect are the very ones who are killing us with their very own gun?
Why? …
Day After Day… WE CRY!!
Because The Ones We Adore…
Unfortunately, Are The Ones We Having To Say Those Words Too…
That “Bye-Bye”
That We Hate To Say
Day After Day,
We Pray..
Hoping There Will Be Unity Across The USA

I said I CAN’T BREATHE!!!
Will You Watch Me Die Or Will You Help Me Change Society?!

– Malik D. Anderson, Class of 2015

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I Can’t Breathe

I can’t breathe. I can barely gasp for air knowing that my brothers are being killed and have no chance of success. It hurts me deeply to know that my ancestors fought for me and everyone around me to have equality and justice, but years later we are still fighting for life and talking about the same problems. The time changes but the history of it all stays the same, and although history can never be changed, we as leaders of the community have the power to break the cycle so that history does not continue to repeat itself.

Unfortunately, most of the time it takes a person to be affected directly by violence for one to make a change. This is what happened to me. My freshman year of high school, I lost one of my friends to violence; he was shot 3 times in the head. T’John would now be eighteen years old and looking forward to graduation day. Because I went through this hard loss of a friend, I did not want anyone else to feel the pain that I had felt. Losing a life to violence is always hard to deal with, but when a community loses a child, it is a feeling that cannot be explained.

When I heard the news of 12 year old Clevelander Tamir Rice being killed by a police officer, I experienced the same pain that I felt when my friend was killed. I lost another T’John it was as if I knew Tamir. My heart hurts knowing that his family is now going through what I went through; another child whose dreams have been snatched away from him by a bullet.

I can’t understand why so many people are treating the African American race as if we do not belong in this society. I hear too often in my surroundings that its “Us vs. THEM.”  I never want to believe that someone is against my life because I am not the same color as them. Karter Zaher said, “We were all human beings until race disconnected us, religion separated us, politics divided us, and wealth classified us.” I am surrounded by tons of people everyday who care deeply about my future and what it should look like; some of these people are not the same race as me, however, that doesn’t change the level of love that they have for me. It seems as if we as a people have forgotten that we are all humans. We were all made in God’s image and likeness of him. The injustices that are going on in Ferguson and Cleveland and New York and across this country are a reflection of this disconnection that we have from our creator. The injustice that has happened to Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Kimani Gray, Kendric McDade, and countless others is a reflection that there is no dignity left in the value of human life. How many more people need to die for you to take action?

– A’bria Robinson, Class of 2015

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We Will Breathe

Who is man?
Am I man?
Is my brother man?
Is my father man?
I am man.
I am black
Negro
Colored
I am man.
All African Americans are man.
We are equal to you whites,
To all people.
Characteristics of a man:
Two-handed (check)
Laughs (check)
Weeps (check)
Intelligence beyond that of animals (check).
The black man meets all of these and more.
Speech, reason, power of knowledge, heaven-erected face, inclinations, hopes, fears, aspirations, and prophecies all set the Black man apart from animals.
So, who are you to deny one that is clearly man
FREEDOM?
Of injustice
Of prejudice
Of dignity
Of life
HOW ARE YOU TO DENY THESE BLACK MEN THE RIGHT TO WHAT IS DUTIFULLY THEIRS?
The Negro is a man!
He deserves all rights available to whites.
“Man is distinguished from all other animals, in that he resists as well as adapts himself to his circumstances.”
Anglo-Saxon whites ripped us from our home, but we adapted to this new land.
YOU made us slaves, servants, animals.
YOU forgot – no disregarded – the fact that
Blacks are men.
Man does not take things as he finds them, he adapts, he changes his circumstance
The black man will no longer take this current treatment of life.
BLACK MALES
young
old
are
MEN.
The black man will gain his right to dignity
His right to life
His right to justice
His right to opportunities.
Whites will no longer:
Enslave
Discriminate
Oppress against the African man.
HE is equally a man
WITH
whites.
The Negro is refusing to be read out of the human family.
The BLACK man will be made a FREE MAN!
Whether you are or not willing to let this liberation ensue.
Negroes
Blacks
African Americans
Are men and will be treated as such.
We will be free.
We will be recognized as who we are–
MAN.

–Saiida Bowie-Little, Class of 2015

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I Can’t Breathe

The violence around the nation has taken a tremendous toll on the people. As I sit and listen to all the pleas, opinions, and declarations I am worried. I don’t understand the theories regarding all the violence that’s going on in Ferguson. All I hear is black and white, and it should not be so. I cannot believe the insight people are going towards. It’s like our morals as people have completely changed. The people see a white man killing another black man. It’s way bigger than that. It’s about one human being killing another. It’s so simple. We don’t love each other anymore. What happened to the respect of life and dignity? There was a boy that I knew in grade school. Sadly, he was shot and lost his life. My friend and I went walking down the street one day, and the pool of blood where he got shot was never cleaned up. They just left it. We no longer look out for one another and look at each other as brothers and sisters. You’re either my enemy or you’re nothing. What kind of logic is that? Race is not the issue anymore; it’s the value of human life. Human lives are being taken for no reason. We’re beating each other and ridiculing each other. Where is the love? We are all called to love each other. Instead of destroying we should be loving. Someone’s life being taken away should be mourned, but the reaction is not receivable. The receivable action is when my brothers and sisters come together. Regardless if they’re black, white, Latino, Muslim or Catholic.  We want them to all come together and not fight each other, but fight the injustice of the system.

– Asia Terry, Class of 2015

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How Dare You

Please don’t ask me.
Please, don’t ask me why I have so much hate in my heart.
Why I’m losing hope in my society.
Look at the people, the children.
Look at how beauty is not in the eye of the beholder,
It’s in society’s hands if you are acceptable.
Look at how we label ourselves and our peers
Calling women bad bitches or guys niggas
Instead of ladies and gentlemen.
Whereas back then that was taken as an insult
That’s become one of the labels we accept to call ourselves.
Being labeled by our skin color and not our intellect or potential
Being labeled as a criminal
Not being able to trust people because you don’t know if they will harm you or stay by your side
“I thought I could trust you” that’s a phrase I haven’t heard, instead it’s “I’ll just fall back” or “I never trusted them in the first place.”
Get shot, raped, or kicked in the face, but you have nobody to blame but yourself.
It’s your fault that you were black while walking down the sidewalk of a white neighborhood.
It’s your fault for looking the way you do they had to search you for weapons that you might have
They don’t shoot to disarm but to kill.
They shoot whoever seems “dangerous”
Do you think they care that you are innocent?
That you aren’t really a threat?
No, they don’t.
That little boy, he had hopes and dreams and wishes.
That young man, he has a family that loves him and just lost a father and brother and husband.
These young men and women had lives that weren’t finished yet.
Lives ended for them, before they even had a chance to make a difference in this hate filled world.
All we have is each other, and sometimes that doesn’t even work
Even we tell each other things need to change, nothing is done.
Instead, we blame each other and hurt each other and worsen the problem.
We can stand up 7 times but fall down 8
I have to worry about if I have a son
If he will be labeled as a thug or juvenile delinquent
Or a daughter
Who will only be identified by her skin color or her body shape
So how dare you,
Ask me
That.

– Ashley Williams, Class 2015

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I Can’t Breathe

I always hear that it’s a cold world, but does it have to be? We make this world cold by our evil ways. I feel our black community is blinded by the truth of what is really going on. Yes, African American men are being killed, but why is race involved? Does it always have to be? We don’t have to act in violence to get a point across. How many people are going to die to show that violence is never the answer? Nothing is going to improve or change if we keep thinking in rage. We must start thinking with our heads and our hearts. The students at my high school organized a silent protest that affected many people that drove down St. Claire that morning. We didn’t act violently or yell. Our silence, our posters, were just enough to show people that we care. These shootings have not only broken the African American community, but have impacted everyone in some type of way. I have witnessed numerous violent altercations in my life. I had a friend that was trying to disarm someone with a fake gun that was threatening to shoot them. When the cops arrived, my friend had the gun in his hand and the police immediately pulled out their gun ready to shoot. This moment was the scariest moment of them all. I just cried and cried because I felt like there was nothing that I could do to convince them that it was fake. No, my friend didn’t get killed, but the thought of it happening would have crushed me. Our policemen are trained to kill and it’s sad to say. But everyone deserves to live! God wanted us to love each other regardless of color, ethnic group, or where we came from. There is no longer love in this world, because we are all blind to the truth: the truth that we are all brothers and sisters of Christ. It’s time to make a change in history and stop repeating it.  Take Cleveland’s Hough riots that happened during the mid 1960s. Blacks still felt unequal to whites and really nothing good came out of it. The majority of African Americans were killed and things didn’t just magically improve. Everything isn’t just going to change all of sudden. We need to stand together and work together to make a change. To want a change!

– Niesha Johnson, Class of 2015

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Some Neglect, Some Honor & Protect

My perspective was that every police officer promised to serve and protect no matter what, especially in our young black community. Coming from a household where my dad is a Police Officer, I just know that he would do anything to protect his city, and so would every officer he is associated with, who was sworn in on under the same oath that he was.  Looking at the world today I see teenagers who look just like me getting killed left and right, but the worst part of it is realizing that our officers are the people doing it. Most people in my community are scared of the police, and they know that there are hundreds of people behind them ready to do whatever it takes to get their point across so that they are heard. That’s what scares me especially after the shooting death of Tamir Rice. My community believes in their mind that EVERY police officer is the enemy. That’s not true!  The officer I know would never follow the actions of Officer Darren Wilson or Timothy Loehmann. I know that firsthand, because I’m with my father everyday of my life, and he’s kept the promise to serve and protect since the day I was born, not only to me, but to my mother, his family, and our city. I want to see Officer Wilson and Loehmann indicted more than anything, because I couldn’t imagine someone close to me being gunned down for nothing more than merely being black or looking suspicious. But, a war on police officers is definitely not the answer, because Police Officers will just have another reason to keep killing our young men. Just like innocent teenage African American lives were lost, believe it or not, there are innocent, good, and honest police officers in our community, our city, and our world who have families that love them and kids that love them. I’m not asking anyone to stop fighting for what’s right, I’m asking to keep it peaceful because everyday my dad leaves out for work I never know if that will be the day someone decides a police officer’s family should feel the same way as Mike Brown, Eric Garner, or Tamir Rice’s family has. I know that there are police officers who don’t do what they should I know some police officers neglect, but I’m asking everyone to stop, and realize that some do honor and protect.

– Andrew Jones-Walker, Class of 2015

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Be a part of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Support the Greater Cleveland YWCA.
Learn more about Sarah Marcus and her work here.

 

 

 

 

THE ETIQUETTE OF POLICE BRUTALITY: AN AUTOPSY

Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

THE ETIQUETTE OF POLICE BRUTALITY[1]

(AN AUTOPSY[2])

By Rion Amilcar Scott

Go ahead. Smack him one. He expects it so it would be rude not to. Besides, look at him giving you a dehumanizing stare[3]. How dare he look at you in that manner? He thinks he’s better than you. Approach in such a way that makes you look huge, immense—a living blue wall of silence[4]. But be loud. Put this guy down before he even starts. Grab him from behind. Maybe use the baton. Don’t be swayed by his screams and pleas of innocence. As a matter of fact, don’t hear them at all. Be deaf to his cries. Innocence doesn’t really matter here, anyway[5]. Sort it out later. Don’t be inhibited with the violence—punches, kicks, strangulation holds[6], baton blows, Tasers[7], and so on. Don’t worry, the state has your back. Make up any excuse you want. It doesn’t need to sound good. As a matter of fact, it would be insulting to make it sound too plausible. Say something like: “He was looking at us all leery and then he raised his hands. We had to throw him on the ground, smash his face to the concrete, knock his teeth out, and put him in a chokehold[8]. It’s important to neutralize the threat.” Toss it off without thinking. Fuck it, say: “He was dancing funny and I found that threatening so I was forced to jab him in the ribs.” The state has your back. No matter what you say, your superiors, the courts, everybody will nod and mumble: “Seems legit.” Yell racial epithets[9]. Shoot wildly[10]. At least 40 shots if unarmed[11]. More might be better[12]. It’s only polite to flex your authority every once in a while[13]. Let the world know how tough you are. The standard charge is resisting arrest. Assaulting an officer. Pile up any ol’ charge. What does it matter? To make the people feel safe and whole you have to break[14] one or two every once in a while so they know your power is both awesome[15] and nearly completely unchecked[16].

 

[1] Inspiration for this piece came from a short story collection called Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons by Tara Laskowski. The work is structured like an etiquette book except each piece of advice covers how to properly comport yourself while doing something wicked such as homicide, adultery, or arson.

[2] I go back and forth with this satirical piece—or “mockery” as I call it (“humor piece,” “satirical piece,” such clunky terms)—wondering if it’s at all successful. It was written from a place of pretty raw anger and frankly, terror, after reading about a succession of police harassment and brutality cases, mostly involving black and brown “suspects.”

Many of these incidents featured graphic and disturbing video of the assaults taking place. Sometimes I was brave enough to watch.

The public has been filming and broadcasting egregious acts of police violence since the 1990s when a motorist filmed Los Angeles police brutalizing Rodney King. Now that most of us carry video cameras in our pockets, such footage is nearly a weekly occurrence. This has done much to inspire the outrage of the public but has seemed to do little to stem the tide of police abuse or even to ensure the type of decisive and swift punishment that would make police think twice about physically assaulting citizens.

One possible thin silver lining is a study done by Rialto, Calif. police that ran from February 2012 to July 2013. A group of officers wore tiny video cameras while interacting with citizens. According to the New York Times, the video cameras resulted in a 60 percent drop in the use of force and an 88 percent drop in complaints against officers.

[3] According to CBS Miami, Miami-Dade Police choked a 14-year-old boy on Memorial Day 2013 because he watched them with what police termed, “dehumanizing stares.”

[4] It’s often said that a universal and morally bankrupt admonishment against “snitching” in poor black communities enables crime in these neighborhoods, but when was the last time you heard of police informing on one another? As the rapper Immortal Technique said, “They never snitch on themselves, but they want you to snitch on you.” An important question that’s rarely asked in these debates is why would anyone want to report crimes to people who have a reputation for brutalizing them?

[5] In Sept. 2000 in Prince Georges County, MD—the county I currently live in with my wife and son (in fact, this occurred in the very neighborhood I once lived)—Prince Jones, a man who had committed no crime, began his last stand. Undercover Prince Georges County narcotics officer, Cpl. Carlton B. Jones (no relation) followed Prince roughly 30 miles to Fairfax, Va. (coincidentally, the county where I went to school in the mid to late aughts) in an unmarked SUV and shot his car 16 times, killing him in the process. Police say they were trailing a suspect in the theft of an officer’s gun and Prince’s car resembled a car driven by the suspect.

Prince, a Howard University student (the university from which I hold an undergraduate degree—as a matter of fact, I too was a Howard student at this time) nearing graduation, was unarmed.

Cpl. Jones claims Prince rammed his car and refused to stand down when he announced he was an officer (though he admitted to showing no badge); witnesses dispute this claim, however, saying that Prince’s car was not moving when Cpl. Jones fired his weapon. As a result of killing Prince Jones, Cpl. Carlton Jones faced no criminal charges (sources: Washington Post; Washington Monthly).

[6] On Thursday July 17, 2014, police in Staten Island approached 43-year-old Eric Garner, a 400 pound asthmatic, purportedly to arrest him for selling loose cigarettes. Garner had reportedly just broken up a fight. Video recorded by a bystander shows Garner protesting frequent harassment: “Every time you see me you want to mess with me. It stops today… I’m minding my business officer. Why don’t you just leave me alone?” Four officers surround Garner and wrestle him to the ground. One deploys a chokehold, a use of force specifically banned by NYPD regulations. Despite video evidence, police claim a chokehold was not used on Garner. While an officer shoves Garner’s head to the sidewalk, he repeatedly cries, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” And those are his final words.

[7] When Oakland transit officer Johannes Mehserle pulled his revolver, shooting and killing Oscar Grant while he lay handcuffed and face down, he claimed to have been reaching for his Taser. For killing Grant, Mehserle served less than a year in prison.

In 2007, after a video of a University of Florida student being tasered by campus police made the rounds on the internet, “Don’t tase me, bro!” became a late-aughts punchline, but the incident that inspired it, a young man being tasered by police for aggressively asking a politician a question during an open forum, is a chilling, abusive, and reckless display of police power.

[8] From the New York Daily News: “The NYPD prohibited the use of chokeholds in 1993. The city’s independent police watchdog has substantiated 10 chokehold cases filed against cops since 2009, but little has happened to the officers involved, records show.

“In one of the cases, the cop accused of putting a person in a chokehold lost up to 10 vacation days, records from the Civilian Complaint Review Board show.

“In two cases, the department declined to discipline the officers, and in three cases, cops received ‘instructions,’ or retraining. In another case, the cop retired before he could be disciplined, and the three remaining cases are pending, the records show.”

[9] According to the New York Times, in 2011 the government intercepted a phone call in which NYPD officer Michael Daragjati bragged about falsely arresting a suspect. In regards to the young man, Daragiati said: “Fried another nigger.” Even more horrifying: Also in 2011, retired Marine, Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr., 68, inadvertently called police to his White Plains home when he accidentally activated his medical alert bracelet. The response of police—this is not in dispute—was to ignore Chamberlain’s request that they leave, call him a nigger, and fatally shoot him (sources: New York Times; New York Daily News).

[10] In 2013, the NYPD shot a disturbed and unarmed man and two innocent bystanders. The man, Glenn Broadnax, caused a commotion by jumping into traffic. The wounded Broadnax was then charged with assault for the bullet wounds suffered by the bystanders under the theory that his actions caused the police shooting to occur. An attorney for one of the wounded bystanders speaking to the New York Times: “It’s an incredibly unfortunate use of prosecutorial discretion to be prosecuting a man who didn’t even injure my client. It’s the police who injured my client.”

The NYPD (again) in 2012 shot nine innocent bystanders during a confrontation with a gunman in Times Square. All nine bystanders were struck by bullets from police weapons. NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly on the shooting: “I believe it was handled well” (Source: FoxNews.com).

While searching for alleged cop killer Christopher Dorner in February 2013, the LAPD shot at trucks that were said to resemble Dorner’s on two separate occasions. In the first incident, police fired on two Hispanic women—a mother and her 47-year-old daughter as they delivered newspapers early in the morning. A bullet ripped through the back of 71-year-old Emma Hernandez. Somehow this incident resulted in no fatalities despite the fact that police fired more than 100 rounds.

Later that day, police opened fire on a truck driven by a white male, David Perdue, a surfer on his way to the beach. In that instance, police rammed Purdue’s truck before shooting at it. Perdue was not hit and prosecutors determined the use of force was reasonable. Dorner, who died in a cabin fire police claimed not to have intentionally set, was a black male (Source: Christian Science Monitor).

Richard Pryor on California police in 1973: “They accidentally shoot more niggas out here than any place in the world. Every time you pick up the paper: nigga accidentally shot in the ass. How do you accidentally shoot a nigga six times in the chest? ‘Well, my gun fell and just went crazy.’”

[11] 41 police shots took the life of Amadou Diallo in the infamous 1999 shooting in the Bronx. He was armed only with a wallet.

[12] In 2006, 50 police shots took the life of Sean Bell in Queens, NY the morning he was to marry. He too was unarmed.

[13] The examples of police brutality used in this piece are all relatively current, which implies that this is a recent problem. That is certainly not the case. Worldwide, police and excessive police force have historically been tools of the state used against the disenfranchised and dispossessed to make sure they don’t get too loud in their cries against their disenfranchisement and dispossession. As the rapper Boots Riley notes: “You never seen a police break up a strike by hitting the boss with his baton pipe.”

It was police, for example, who held the fire hoses that mowed down civil rights protesters in the 1960s.

Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland as a response to police harassment in 1966. Even then it was a long-standing community problem. The group’s initial program was an armed patrol to evaluate the behavior of the police. Government suppression of the Party was codified in the COINTELPRO program (see FBI documents here), a wave of law enforcement intimidation and force unprecedented in its cruelty, lawlessness, and violence. Chicago police murdered the Deputy Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton, in a police raid while he slept (drugged by infiltrators) on December 4, 1968. Police fired nearly 100 rounds at the Illinois Panthers while the Panthers fired only one.

[14] Richard Pryor on the police from Wanted/Richard Pryor Live in Concert (1978): “Two grab your legs, one grab your head—they go, snap! ‘Oh, shit he broke. Can you break ‘em? Does it say so in the manual? Let’s check. Yep, page 8, you can break a nigger.’”

[15] A 2014 American Civil Liberties Union report (War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing) details the increased militarization of police departments around the United States. SWAT teams armed with military weaponry, vehicles, and equipment handed down from our decade long Middle East (mis)adventures are being deployed in American cities for fairly routine operations. Just outside of Atlanta in 2014, police raided a house in search of a small stash of drugs. They carried M16s and upon entering tossed a flashbang grenade that landed in a crib next to a sleeping toddler. The child suffered a hole in his chest and possible permanent brain damage. The suspect police were looking for was not in the home at the time and did not even live there, according to the toddler’s mother, who wrote about the incident for Salon.com.

The family moved to Atlanta, a town that is no stranger to police raids gone astray. In 2006, police invaded the home of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, shooting her dead in the process. After police found no drugs in her house, they planted three bags of marijuana. The paperwork that served as the basis for the “no knock warrant”—which alleged that an informant purchased drugs at Johnston’s home—turned out to be based on falsified evidence (source: CNN.com).

[16] In many of the above cases, such as the Chamberlain case, police were cleared of any wrongdoing or faced relatively light or unspecified punishments, a situation that I imagine leaves police feeling comfortable in deploying any act of violence in their toolbox, no matter how reckless, if it leaves them standing when all the smoke from the gunfire has cleared. However, for much of the populace, that knot in their chests when a squad car sidles up next to them in traffic is the twinge of sheer terror.

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Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to PANK, Fiction International, The Rumpus, and Confrontation, among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA at George Mason University and presently teaches English at Bowie State University. He can also be found at forgottentunneltv.tumblr.com and @ReeAmilcarScott.