Today’s Thoughtful Thursday is dedicated to the memory of Antwon Rose, 17, of East Pittsburgh. Another young black man gunned down by a police officer, shot and killed while running away. What possible harm could a police officer have believed himself to be in from a young man running away from him?
In memory of Antwon Rose and the many other young men who have lost their lives at the hands of police officers here are three poems about police violence. Written by celebrated poets Langston Hughes in 1947, Audre Lorde in 1978 and Lucille Clifton in 1992, they chronicle America’s long and brutal history of police violence against young black men.
Who But The Lord?
I looked and I saw
That man they call the law.
He was coming
Down the street at me!
I had visions in my head
Of being laid out cold and dead,
Or else murdered
By the third degree.
I said, O, Lord, if you can,
Save me from that man!
Don’t let him make a pulp out of me!
But the Lord he was not quick.
The law raised up his stick
And beat the living hell
Out of me!
Now, I do not understand
Why God don’t protect a man
From police brutality.
Being poor and black,
I’ve no weapon to strike back
So who but the Lord
Can protect me?
The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being ready to kill
instead of your children.
I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles
and my stomach
churns at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips
without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sinks into the whiteness
of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction
trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.
A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
“I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color”. And
there are tapes to prove that, too.
Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10’’ black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.
I have not been able to touch the destruction
But unless I learn to use
the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie limp and useless as an unconnected wire
and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket
raping an 85 year old white woman
who is somebody’s mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed
a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time
“Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are.”
For rodney king
of one black man
is rag and stone
the body of one
contains no life
so the body
of one black man
is there no value
in this skin
if we are nothing
should we spare
who will be next and
why should we save