“Bring wings to the weak
Bring grace to the strong
Make all evil stumble as it flies in the world
All the tribes come and the mighty will crumble
We must brave this night
And have faith in love…”
4 voices in the room.
“We need two cars, right? Two cars?”
“Yeah, because your dad’s car’s in the shop and they gave him the rental—”
“Ok, Mom and Jeremiah are going with me.”
“What time does it start?”
“2 o’clock. 2:05 I think. Something like that.”
“Ok we should go. Come on!”
3 voices in the car.
“I’m going to turn on the alarm.”
“You’re sitting in back? Oh, you’re making something with the beads. K.”
“What station was it, Jeremiah? Oh, you’re playing—Johnny can play his music on the way there, and Jeremiah can play his music on the way back. Ok?”
“You can play your music on the way back, and Johnny on the way there.”
“It’s ok, Mom!”
“Just as long as it’s not too much of that Boom-Boom rap music, I don’t want to hear that.”
2 voices spit meditative.
Let’s Be Cops; en route. Cool cool of air conditioner swirling new car smell into zen nostrils. Mingle in the nasal passage to the mind with miasmatic music, Mos Def—Yasiin Bey—Black on Both Sides—anyway.
1:33:47 PM First voice. Me. Everyday.
Michael Brown’s murder on my mind, an atomic neural imprint; an atomized cluster of black ash—“the result was dark ashes—hence the first stage of the work was called nigredo (black)…a destructive, sorrowful stage, the moment when an existing thing…was brought to dissolution”—collected into mental mausoleum with myself and the rest—so many, such a cavernous space. It travels from brain stem, radiating toward nerve ending and imminent motor function. It infects the abstraction of every involuntary muscle contraction, the rhythm of heart and breath, the cadence
of my dot dot dot
our dot dot dot
1:35:19 PM Second: Myself; at home.
It constitutes that beat, that tectonic foundation, that shaking ground, that the rest of this body’s movements move on and with, over and under and through, and as. That beat, that stirred earth and water, that mud and muck, that funk behind the deep exhale, that shit that guides the legs and arms and clenches the fist and clicks the pen—that’s that shit. That stank-meaning to this movement. It leads down to the feet, that grave inside traveling from head to toe. It leads. What follows?
At the end of this tunnel it’s red and blue lights
Once you pay the price you can never do right
“There is no way to reject the thesis
that there is something wrong
with being black beyond the willingness
to ‘be’ black—
One thing I know all I did was wrong
Maybe there ain’t nowhere I belong
Only thing in front of me’s a bullet in the head
And hoping one day that they’ll find me dead
‘Til then I’ll make a place in this world
For me and my baby girl
1:36:56 PM Third, like the first; word alchemist.
Another corpse. Which is another loss of…potential. Which means a closing as the wound opens over us. A wound like a black hole. A black hole that vacuums the disappearance of another infinity, his possible futures crushed by the gravity, the graveness,
of dot dot dot
this dot dot dot
“life”—cosmic, real; singular, collective.
An obliterating warp of time and space from which there is no escape. It is inside; it is my mausoleum mind. It is outside; it is the haunted plantation of the world. The electricity begetting the flattening of the diaphragm, the alchemical condition of possibility for inhalation; the particulate refuse of the air we breath; flecks of black flesh in the summer—and spring, fall, and winter—breeze.
1:39:02 PM Fourth speaker; scholar.
“Abject muteness” (Judy 1993: 89) of we who scream and wail and cry and call and sing and die and, in death, fail to transcend into the realm of honorable legibility. This is a “history of illegibility” (98), a continuing and evolving time and space that cannot be read or written with the words this world affords us, in which the language is organized with antiblackness as its grammar and ghost, the words and clauses and sentences stitched together with threads of black life cut by death, or Atropos—the “inevitable,” the “inflexible;” and so, the tethers unbreakable, and yet.
An abstraction of space and time that moves against the antiblackness of “common sense,” a force of the unspeakable and unthinkable, unthought and unspoken—“a riot is the language of the unheard”—moving against the countervailing force of domination and terror, guns and law, legality itself and the gaze of the world. Ghostly, this is the force of “the afterlife of slavery—skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration…impoverishment,” (Hartman 2007: 6) subjection to (the fear and reality) of near-everyday murder by law enforcement—
“white people are not simply
by the police.
in their very corporeality—
the police” (Wilderson 2003: 20)
“Lupe Fiasco Addresses Ferguson Protests,
Urges Citizens to Become Police Officers”
—being rendered available to misuse, defamation, and the power of the white lie, and, and, and—the ghost is Hexadecimal (link) and wears many masks.
Ghastly, this the force founded on a field of flayed flesh, spilled blood, and lost—unwritten—names. It is what this body channels in its deathly gestures, what black movement of an impossible name, but called “protest” or “riot” or dot dot dot, channels. It is destructive and pained, enraged and horrified, grieving and hysterical, but always, like the sniper shot, aimed, with aims, focused, locked-on locked-in, and absolutely a threat to the teargas- rubber-bullet- wooden-pellet- live-round-shooting force of antiblackness standing in a line spanning the street with weapons at the read, or on/as the news broadcasts of CNN, MSNBC, FOX, and whoever else.
It is the thing behind the relaxation of diaphragm and the alchemical condition of possibility for black exhalation; it is the peculiar, indefinable mixture of life and death cast back into the air as exhale, shout, sigh, call, cry, song, ululation, curse, praise, the atomized names of the countless slain
dot dot dot
Mi chael Br ow nEz ellFor d S he llyFreyJon athan Craw f o r dIIIM iaHen ders on Arm and Ber net tEri cG ar nerRen ish aMc Br id e J o r danD av i sMir i am Vict orWhite III Car eyTr ay vonMar tinYve tteSm ith OscarG rant Christ opher Dor nerRek iaB o ydAiy ana Stanl eyJo nesT arik a Wil son Kima niGr ay Kend recMc Dade Tim o thy Rus sell Mal is sa Will i am sErv inJef ferso nAma douD iall o Sea nBel lAnn aBro wnOrlan doBar lowL at ashaHarl insMal colmXMart inLu therKi n g JrSt eve Bi koFr edHa mptonA d dieMa eCo llinsCynt hiaWes leyCar oleRob ert sonD eni seMc Na ir everystrangefruiteveryslavealwaysandstill everyvictimanddescendantofgenocide blackbloodred
Allunnamednamedslainthatescapemymemoryintothevoidofforgettingmisrememberingloss dot dot dot
and, in all, truth.
This is this body’s dot dot dot
“Life” dot dot dot
Hesitant voice; audible.
“Let’s go.” My body stretches into the declaration of a singularity, “I,” “1,” and marks me a superlative, “!”—which and what are seen and heard by the white man in the pickup truck that drives by?
“We know that
black bodily vernaculars
as unhuman” (Macharia)
Salutation to the sun, overheard by the perpetual eavesdrop of rainbow surveillance—how does the prismatic door of no return, between this universe of dark matter, and the world of the living, transmute this body’s conversation with sol?
is the great alchemy of social relations:
hands reaching into pockets
into weapons of mass destruction
wallets and brooms and keys and phones
into machines whose wielders
The close of a door, the close of a door, the close of a door, the summer sunshine, a circling pickup truck. And it is so hot.
But the theater is cool like a family birthday celebration, and the chill of the chill spanning six seats adds a hip-hop aura to the cadence of popcorn staccato crunches. Trailers are over, brothers are joking, Jeremiah’s got me cracking up over one of the previews, I’m loose and light; I’m cool. Let’s go. Let’s Be Cops.
A simple plot: Two friends, Ryan (Jake Johnson) and Justin (Damon Wayans Jr.) openly discuss feeling unfulfilled in LA at the age of 30, Ryan having failed to sell a videogame pitch and Justin having lost out on his football career due to an injury. An upcoming reunion with collegiate buddies, a “costume party,” stirs their anxieties about having made the right decision moving to LA, and lays the foundation for the hairbrained plan made plain by the title and trailers. Justin has some authentic uniforms prepared because of his officer-based videogame, “Patrolman.” They go as policemen.
Of course, Ryan misinterprets the email invitation, and the “costume party,” which was really a masquerade, singles out the two in uniform, allowing the judgmental collective to remain anonymous and massive in their judgment, leaving the spectacle of policing embodied by Ryan and Justin breaches the fore. Out of disappointment and embarrassment, they leave the party sharing a desire to return home to Ohio out of exhaustion and shame.
But wait! People begin to look their way. Crowds, without masks, unmasked masses, direct their gazes at the two. A party of white womyn kisses them both passionately and hyperbolically because of a scavenger hunt—“We’re on a scavenger hunt and we have to kiss a cop!” or something. Ryan and Justin stop pedestrians to test their power, akin to Spiderman checking himself out in a mirror, or the boys of Chronicle videotaping—with cellphones, camcorders, computers—their newfound alien superpowers. It begins.
People love the police in this film. Partiers welcome and enjoy the company of the police, criminals fear the police—a scene that introduces the gangsters as actual antagonists (not their first scene in the film) has them twirl and dance at the officer’s command, despite their advantage in arms and numbers—womyn fall for the police for their embodied policing—a subplot of the film is a romance grounded this way—and dice-players get down and throw bones with the cops. The humor and the love of the police lies in the defiance of expectation—police don’t normally do these things, and therefore it’s cool and hilarious when they behave this way. The ghastly corollary that haunts the film: if only they all behaved this way, if they let loose, everyone would love, party, and fall in love with them.
The slippage into power is swift as it is silly and horrifying. Humor ensues and is grounded in only this ease: the simple change of clothes and gait; the abundance of authentic police cruisers on EBay, and the availability of authentic LAPD decals that can simply be ironed on and peeled off like children’s tattoos from cereal boxes; the sheer volume and accessibility of specific police hand-signals, codes, defensive maneuvers, and tactics on YouTube—all of that, all of that, all of that, and the act is flawless, and they’ve become cops. The troubling “be,” unmodified and unqualified in the title—“pretend to be,” “act like,” “dress up as,” “train to become,” and other possibilities come to mind—comes to bear, and they’ve become cops with little significant effort, and only “lingo” and costumes/uniforms to separate them from their former selves.
A series of subplots emerges in orbit of a conflict with a violent European man who terrorizes what looks like a community European immigrant businesses, and his collision with these newborn officers. But the central narrative, that of being cops acts as the gravity tethering all of this together.
Being cops is actually much more terrifying than videogames and movies would have us believe.
Being cops is honorable, and those who take that position lightly or abuse the power of it are to be corrected, either by realignment with the proper values of policing, or by fatal force.
Being cops requires the plural “s” because cops look out for each other because friends look out for each other, especially when they’re “in the shit.”
Being cops can be fun and hilarious, even when one is a “real” cop.
Intent on directing the vector from this amalgamated ‘initial point’ toward dual ‘terminal points,’ “friendship is complicated, but worth it” and “being cops is tough, requires friendship, and we need to understand the reality of cop being,” there are accidental truths in the film’s telling that exceed directorial motivation. Such easy slippage from citizen to “patrolman,” with all the accouterments, cauterized by humor-as-antic and –as-situation, begs a question about the measure and location of the distinction between being a cop and being a civilian—uniform, car, lingo, gait, whither the ontology of the performance? Whither the corporeality when, as Wilderson notes, “white people are not simply ‘protected’ by the police. They are—in their very corporeality—the police” and others their junior partners (nonblacks) and speaking/acting implements (Blacks from Don Lemon to Captain Ron Johnson to…)?
Highlighting, by masking, this question through various strategies of humor—situational penis jokes, punch-lines, pratfalls, weed jokes, and so on, and so on (and I did laugh, quite a bit), begs a question about the status of humor and the content of laughter in relation to our beliefs about the police, and about the distinction between being and not being a cop—whither the joke? And forgetting/foregoing any kind of disdain for the cops that be in an age during which the obviousness and ubiquity of antiblack police violence are well-documented and collectively hated by activist, scholar, and ally alike (though those are not mutually exclusive terms, and they all have quotation marks because they must remain in question as terms, and as terms in relation to Blacks) begs a question about that distinction and that humor, and about the always untimeliness of “cop jokes” for Black folk.
The rioting and looting and they asking how come
All these dead black children, y’all motherfuckers sound dumb
The sporadic respiration of laughter, inhale and exhale, and its neurological and anatomic conditions of possibility remain the markers of the exits and entrances to the labyrinthine mausoleum threading this collective, cosmic, singular, earthly body’s Fanonian musculature. It reveals the atomized traces of the dead hidden among and as the air this body breathes, and the enjoyment and pain this body feels. In and out, in and out dot dot dot
The violation of this body
In and out, in and out
dot dot dot
The destruction of this body
In and out, in and out
dot dot dot
The breath and “life” of this body
In and out, in and out
dot dot dot
The perpetual dying and Death of this body
In and out, in and out
dot dot dot
“No, no, no. THAT’S not the image that’s going to be stuck in your head. Remember the big guy? The huge naked guy?”
“Yeah, that one, and that lady’s face when she said that, and—so many things are gonna stick in my my mind, haha. So many things.”
“Where’d you guys park?”
“Over there, where you guys parked.”
“Oh, ok cool. So yeah”
Elongation; “hands up…”—singularity, superlative. A door opens and closes, and then two more, the sunbaked leather feels like it’s melting into my skin, and I let out a heated hiss, but it is an expected pain. It is so hot.
Voices legion; the living dead and dead living of the mausoleum speaks through this body.
“You got the cake ready?”
“Yeah. We don’t need ice cream right?
I was going to go to the store and get some
But we’re cool, right?”
What level of citation will render
T H I S
Legible to Masters (Whites), Junior Partners (Nonblacks), and Speaking/Acting Implements (Blacks)
Who stan(d) for the antiblack world?
Judy-Spillers-Wilderson-Brand-Sexton-Gordon-Sharpe-Hartman-Moten-Chandler-Marriott-Fanon-Wynter-Césaire-Hall-Gilroy-Jackson-Baraka-Davis-Colarusso-Amobi-Wheliye-Douglass-Brady-Kay-Ricks-Terrefe-Hunt-Nyong’o-Walker-Keeling-Morrison-Díaz-Shakur-Nopper-Lomax-Walcott-Coates-Moore-Neal-Spence-Farrow-Snorton-Bradley-Thomas-Harris-Perry-Green-Redmond-Crenshaw-Alexander-Smith-Douglass-Du Bois-Macharia-Black Twitter led by Black womyn-all of them-all of them-all of them-and more-and still to come—
Is illegibility to be overcome?
“I want a small piece. Really small. That one. I’m still full from the place.”
“Jeremiah, do you have cake? Everybody has cake?”
What words can I write to silence
Twitter handles and Black Youth Project (link) and INFOWARS and dailykos and theroot and newblackman and thefeinistwire and all of them all of them all of them?
“Yeah, Luis. It’s a tablet and a computer.”
“Wow! I don’t even have a fancy phone–¡miralo! Man!
I might get a nicer one soon, though.”
“Look at mine! Shoot.”
“Yeah, Josh, that’s cool. That’s real cool!”
What poetry can capture
The deathly life of being Black
BLACK in an antiblack world
That would subject this body to the countless deaths
police intimidation and force
the antiblack fear white and nonblack people hold
defamation of soul and name
poverty and gentrification from cracker colonizers
inaccessible health care and fragmented self care
lie after lie after lie after lie after lie
coded into movie television show news broadcast sermon song photo footage caption ad text test thought
manifest into every IggyMileyTaylorJustinJustinMarshallMacklemore and its fan and defender
or every too loud/too quiet NewBlackBoBPharrellJayZQuestloveTINellyJamieBeyoncéKanye?
—but we know it we know it we know it we know it—
s p a c e
the lines and read the rhymes or lackthereof
to make it all make sense?
“You make those?”
“You just make them—like—from just—you don’t look at something, or–?”
“Yeah, I just make them.”
“When did you start? What made you start?”
“I just found it. I don’t know, haha.”
“Yeah, one day he just suddenly ordered all these Perler beads,
and then I got this one from him”
“The one I made Joshua? It took—like—4 hours.”
“Yeah, he was up ‘til—like—5 in the morning.”
“You should sell ‘em. Set you up with a booth—like—”
“That’s cool, Jeremiah. Cool stuff.”
What words words words
Is this an argument?—
Is this not fact?—
What style can make fact appear factual
In the face of big white lies?
“What are you guys doing over there?
You guys cool?”
How does this body put it?
Where does this body walk?
When does this body talk, move, think, scream, cry,
Who is this body failing,
Who is this body speaking for,
Who is this body speaking to?
Why (not) this body?
“Yeah, Stephanie’s just playing Call of Duty and I’m playing with my tablet.”
“Luis—guys—you can turn on the air conditioner if you want
Try to get it to cool down in here—
Just close up the house”
“K. I got it.
It’s so hot in here.”
The vertigo of being (in/of) this body is uncanny, strange. The world turns violently on an axis of antiblack violence, and daily—are we keeping pace? Every 28 hours? (link)—this body moves against this centripetal force, counterclockwise—against the movement of time and space—antagonistically. Every teargas canister thrown away from children/elders/womyn/men, every chant and scream and cry and call, every footstep, every breath—all comprise the amalgamated black(ened) force that must be juggernaut in the face of lie and bullet and pellet and fist and shot and raid and beating and murder.
Love Black People. Black Life/Death Matters. Love Black People. Black Life/Death Matters. Love Black People. Black Life/Death Matters. Love Black People. Black Life/Death Matters. Love Black People. Black Life/Death Matters. Love Black People. Black Life/Death Matters. Love Black People. Black Life/Death Matters. Love Black People. Black Life/Death Matters. Love.
I know if YOU understand what I’m talking about
It was love for the thing that made me want to stay out
It was love for the thing that made me stay in the house
Trying to find words to describe the vibe that’s inside the space
When you close your eyes and screw your face
My brother celebrates his 24th birthday and I fear for his “life.” My other brother starts school on Monday and I fear for his “life.” My mother has to go show a house and I fear for her “life.” My father has to go to work and I fear for his “life.” My girlfriend is praying for healing for her mother on the way to the hospital and I fear for her “life.” My aunt teaches dance and yoga and I fear for her “life.” My friends and peers and mentors and I write this down and think these thoughts and share this pain and rage and truth and I fear for our “life”—collective, cosmic, singular, earthly, and always in quotation marks, always.
This body is juggernaut perpetual motion device wielding knowledge pain rage love fear courage exhaustion frustration qua force unceasing unrelenting unwavering uncompromising undoing. I write with this body. Neurological impulses manifest as the black electric message, coercing fingers to fing keys, travel the length of the ashen mausoleum of this body, this imagination—all of this, all of this, all of this—to produce the inhale/exhale of blackness suturing the staccato rhythmic sequences of clicking keys to words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, and to footsteps, twitter reports, milk poured on burning eyes and skin, raised hands, defenses of homes and precious spaces, meals and drinks provided/donated, seconds of standing/walking/moving/trying/loving/living/dying, and on and on, and on and on. Cypher keep movin’ like a rolling stone.
“Nevertheless with all my strength I refuse to accept that amputation. I feel in myself a soul as immense as the world, truly a soul as deep as the deepest of rivers, my chest has the power to expand without limit. I am a master and I am advised to adopt the humility of the cripple dot dot dot
“You have a good birthday?”
“Yeah. It was fun.”
“That bacon poutine was super good. But I’m never eating a ghost chili burger.”
“If I give you a piece, you will!”
“Nope. Haha, goodnight. I’m going to bed.”
dot dot dot Yesterday, awakening to the world, I saw the sky turn upon itself utterly and wholly. I wanted to rise, but the disemboweled silence fell back upon me, its wings paralyzed. Without responsibility, straddling Nothingness and Infinity, I began to weep” (Fanon 108).
John Murillo III is a PhD student in the English department at Brown University, and a graduate of the University of California, Irvine, with bachelor’s degrees in Cognitive Science and English. His research interests are broad, and include extensive engagements with and within: Black Studies–particularly Afro-Pessimism–Narrative Theory; Theoretical Physics; Astrophysics; Cosmology; and Neuroscience. He is currently at work on a novel, Dark Matter, and on a graphic novel of the same name. Find him on Facebook or Twitter.