Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Social Contract

It's a common thread in the narrative of black and brown people in America.

Bob Herbert's column in the Times today highlights some key points. Police interaction with communities of color, and people of color, cuts to the marrow. It doesn't matter if you're Ivy league educated or the average street negro, all brown boys in America have a story about being pulled over or stopped by cops simply because the color of their skin. It's more than a scene in an Oscar winning film.

Over the weekend, I found that we were still talking about it. Over brunch, another friend expressed her rage as best a poet can, saying simply, 'Am I to believe then, that their blue line is worth more than my blood?' An implied deference to law enforcement, without any accountablity to the people they are sworn to serve and protect seems to violate the social contract. Or should I infer from all of these stories that we were never party to that social contract?

Again, I could put it to rest, but then I came across this in my readings today. From Ross Gay's collection of poems, Against Which,(Cavankerry Press, 2006). I'm hoping he doesn't mind my posting it here. It struck nerves.

Pulled Over in Short Hills, NJ 8:00AM

It's the shivering. When rage grows
hot as an army of red ants and forces
the mind to quiet the body, the quakes
emerge, sometimes just the knees,
but, at worst, through hips, chest, neck,
until, like a virus, slipping inside the lungs
and pulse, every ounce of strength tapped
to squeeze words from my taut lips,
his eyes scanning my car's insides, my eyes,
my license, and as I answer the questions
3, 4, 5 times, my jaw tight as a vice,
his hands massaging the gun butt, I
imagine things I don't want to
and inside beg this to end
before the shiver catches my
hands, and he sees,
and something happens.

Copyright © 2006 by Ross Gay


Oscar Bermeo said...

Thanks for posting this, Syreeta.

Straight up, one of my best friends is a cop (formerly in NYC and now down south) and he used to hate the perceptions that every cop is a jerk. And he hated that he worked around so many jerks who were abusive cops. It was a deep conflict for a Latino who really wanted to help people and not just a scene in a movie.

Gay's poem is the real deal. No one wants to be abused but when the alternative is to end up a statistic, you just do the best ya can.

Take care.

Syreeta said...

Thanks O!

I totally forgot about that scene too.

I'm glad Gay's poem moves folks to talk about it. I got more folks funneling me more stories of their experiences as well.