What a week. If only history had something to tell us about riots. Oh wait…it does.
This semester, I taught an introductory Communications Course at a small 4-year college here in the Bay Area. One of this semester’s required texts was Anna Deavere Smith’s “Twilight,” which has nothing to do with teenage vampires. Twilight: Los Angeles 1992 is the book based on Smith’s astonishing one-woman show (which I was lucky enough to see in person, way back when) in which she offers none of her own opinions, but simply “performs” her subjects’ speeches – based on her interviews with many of the principals, and bystanders, surrounding the Rodney King beating and the uprising/riots that occurred in Los Angeles 23 years ago this week. My students were required to read the text and comment on a website that they all agreed should be public. Their comments were written before the recent events in South Carolina and Maryland, but in light of this difficult week, I thought I would steal a page from Anna Deavere Smith and simply perform – uh, quote – them wholesale. Just to give you an idea of where current college students are in the wake of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, #blacklivesmatter, and related topics:
Twilight: Los Angelos was a huge reality check for me. I know police brutality is so common today, especially after Ferguson. However, I was shocked to learn that this is nothing new. Smith revealed through a variety of novels that many people have been the victims of police brutality. This was a difficult reading for me not only because cops are supposed to protect us, but also because of everything I see in the media. In Gil Garcetti’s narrative, Magic, he writes what everyone, including myself, is thinking. “You want to believe the officers, because they are there to help you…they are still there to help and to protect you. That’s what we’ve been sold all our lives” (75). The police is supposed to protect us, every single one of us. Why is it so prevalent that people of color are being beat or killed. This makes me, and I’m sure many others, so fearful of the police. They are capable of causing so much harm and then getting away with it.
I do not completely disagree with you Meghan, but you must not forget that not all cops are narcissistic, gun happy, racist or people that should not be trusted. I am not trying to take away from the horrors of Eric Garner or Ferguson. There will always be bad cops who take advantage of the power they are given. Just don’t forget that many of the men and women in this country put on that uniform every day with the intention to protect you and your family. The vast majority of cops have families they want to go back home to at night but will still sacrifice their lives to protect you. It is a popular trend right now for the media to bash on police officers because that is what we want to read and hear about. The news only features stories about white cops killing black men. Believe it or not, black cops have also killed black men. Do we ever hear these stories in the media? Nope. The news is also never going to show the wonderful, heroic, courageous, and humbling things cops do everyday.
I agree with most of your comment and with the fact that good cops exist, but I feel as if the media informs us more about the good that cops do over the bad. Only recently (because of the Michael Brown case) has the media begun to inform people about police brutality, even though there are still many cases that do not get media attention and which I only see on sites such as Tumblr. I also don’t necessarily agree with you that cops always have the intention to help us, but more that they are there to enforce the law in a way that they see fit. In the past the public felt as if cops were the law and because of this nothing was said or done when they did not act in accordance with what, many would call basic human rights. Now, thanks to the brave people who are being vocal about these issues, we are able to see that cops are unfortunately not always there to help us, but more to perpetuate stereotypes and profile innocent individuals. I am not blaming cops alone, but more the system that allows for these types of injustices to occur.
This idea has been engrained in us since kids that the police have one job and it is to protect. Accordingly, through various media outlets, mostly movies recently, the portrayal of cops is heroes who save small communities and bring justice to the world. Undoubtedly, the character and communities are white. Smith provides the point of view of the colored community without holding back. These injustices are still happening, and whether in a book or not, their voices are being heard through protest. Earlier this week many students came into the dining repeating, “Black Lives Matter!” They surrounded the hall, passed out flyers, and gave speeches on individual experiences colored students had with the police. This was eye opening to know that fellow classmates were being pulled over because of the color of their skin, then being questioned if they were really a [student].
The reason for the publicity and widespread outrage in the Rodney King case is because it was captured on video and given to news outlets. The use of media allows for the spread of injustices and allows people to rally for human rights. This was seen recently in the case of Ferguson where police brutality was again publicized and people brought to light the injustices that have been occurring for decades. When the media does not call to attention the injustices that occur, the majority of people forget about the need to fight for these rights and things do not change. This can be seen in the fact that the Rodney King case did not put an end to police brutality. On the other hand, media outlets during riots seem to portray officers as the villains and seem to forget about the fact that you cannot judge a whole group based off of a few people. But there is still a need based on recent events, to purge the justice system of people who are likely to act out against the public and take advantage of the trust that we give them. The media is our tool for change and now we need to make sure that this subject is not put to rest until a real change is made.
As a nation we have to address the long cycle of corruption and bigotry which has infected our government and sabotaged the lives of countless innocent people. While watching the Rodney King beating it was clear that the officers used excessive force. What was more daunting in that video was the pack-like mentality that the officers had during the beating. The sad reality is that the police functions exactly like a gang, except that this gang has the law of the land to back its authority. Considering the fact that the police are backed by congress, the courts, and the media, they can construct any narrative they want and we will usually accept it as reality. The Ferguson, ruling for example, clearly illustrates this phenomenon. Officer Wilson, (Michael Brown’s killer,) provided testimony that was completely inconsistent with eye witness testimony and the physical evidence at the crime scene. However, the case never even made it to trial due to the massive political powers that were sympathetic towards Wilson. In most cases of police brutality the media will frame the narrative to make it appear as though the victim was at fault. The police are always protected and any dissenting points of view are usually violently attacked by most loyal to government media outlets.
Rodney King and Michael Brown are very clear examples of how racism is still active in America and I think that’s disgusting. If we are supposed to be protected by the police, who is suppose to protect us from the police? I fully respect this play that we read because it brings an awareness of the horrors of police brutality and racism. Police are given too much power and it’s very easy for them to abuse that. In the Rodney King case, King was beaten for driving a Hyundai more than 100 miles per hour, allegedly. However, even the car manufacturers said that the car couldn’t go that fast, so that makes me wonder what else about the case wasn’t true. The case was moved into a predominately white neighborhood so the the jury would be white individuals who let all the police officers off and said they were innocent. The verdict resulted in a city-wide riot, resulting in 53 deaths and more than 2000 injuries. The amount of racism still alive in this country is disturbing and I hope people, especially those with authority, become more and more educated on the topics addressed in Twilight: Los Angeles.
It was interesting to me that although [Smith] didn’t always state the ethnicity of the speaker, readers can somewhat sense their ethnicity by either their tone, urgency or their demeanor. I noticed that people of Caucasian descent weren’t as engaged in the conversation of the topic and they didn’t have a sense of urgency in their tone. They typically described what happened and comment about how it was a tragedy. For example, there was a man named Mike Davis who was talking about how, in the past, civil rights was about letting African American’s surf on the beach and in the prologue before his dialogue Smith describes him as “opulent. He is eating a burger and drinking coffee” (28). From this description alone, you can tell that he is not too traumatized or affected by the situation. He doesn’t seemed distressed or disturbed but how can he if he truly hasn’t been affected by police brutality. On the other hand, you have people who were minorities and directly affected by police brutality who have a somewhat scrambled testimony which indicated a sense of urgency and distress. Rodney King’s aunt speech, for example, seems flustered especially when she says “I be wanting to talk and relax, you know, and here something click up and click up and that’s when I get started. I do” (60). You can see that she is clearly disturbed by all that is happening that she is at a point where she can no longer relax because it happens so often and it is decapitating. I just really like how Anna Deavere Smith didn’t go back and revise what they said because I think that would have taken out of the meaning and conviction of the statements. She’s not giving a voice to the people, she’s letting the people speak for themselves.
Police brutality is something I have never experienced, so I can’t say I know how these people feel, but I can try my best to make aware of the injustices going on in our society and understand it more. But, we cannot forget that we aren’t present when the very first moments of these things happen. Not all policemen have bad intentions and I assume that most are trying to protect themselves while also protecting the community. There will always be bad cops who take advantage of the power they are given but these men and women are on the police force to protect our neighborhoods and the unfortunate thing is: things like this are going to happen. The recent stories in the news right now are of white policemen killing black men but what about the times where a black cop has killed a white man? Those stories are never in the news. I think our society needs to take a step back and look at these situations from all angles. I’m not saying that the Ferguson and King cases aren’t justified, but we cannot assume all cops have bad intentions when putting on their uniform for the day. I think the widespread use of social media allows us to spread the word on injustices and allows people to get their opinion out there and heard.
I made a personal connection to the story of Jason Sanford, the “All-American” boy from Santa Barbara. He tells us his experiences of running into the law and how he knows those experiences have been extremely different than those of a Black man. I lived in Santa Barbara recently for two years and was on the other side of the spectrum than Jason Sanford, which was the reason behind my connection to the story. My experience with the law in that area (a predominately Caucasian city) differed extremely than my White friends there. Therefore, despite the fact that this play by Smith was written and performed over twenty years does not make it any less relevant today. In terms of the bigger picture of the play, I could not help but make a connection to an incident that occurred less than two miles from my house about six years ago: the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant by a BART Policeman. Oakland being my hometown and where I currently reside, I experienced the aftermath of this unfortunate shooting and saw first-hand what injustice looks like. I am a strong believer that some people are born into a difficult living situation and/or less privileged lifestyle, therefore some people must try harder to avoid unnecessary interactions with police who misuse their power. The problem is there is no stopping those violent policemen/women even when they do cooperate. If police use excessive and unnecessary force but are not punished for it, then the cycle will never end, which is why two decades after Smith’s play was written the problem still exists.