Monday, November 27, 2006

Know Your Rights

These days, I wouldn't be surprised if you thought that the title of this blog came from The Clash's 1982 song. Alas, an important non-fiction read is distributed for free in ACLU offices, a few schools and community centers, and at the library (where I got mine). The pamphlet, "Know Your Rights," discusses what your legal rights are as a citizen (or non-citizen, and I love them too) when confronted by law enforcement. Unfortunately, when one is dealing with such a blatanly racist and trigger-happy police force like the NYPD, even knowing your rights won't save you. I write this in light of the fatal shooting death of Sean Bell, twenty-three years old, murdered by undercover officers the day of what should have been his wedding. Excessive force? Perhaps, but not really. Why not? Because the term 'excessive' points to extremity whereas the NYPD's typical treatment of African Americans and other people of color is excessive and, therefore, the excess becomes normative. My rage at this execution is deep; so is my sadness for Sean Bell and his family. To keep this on the literary track, I will quote an excerpt of Amiri Baraka's "Black Art": "Assassin poems, Poems that shoot/guns. Poems that wrestle cops into alleys/and take their weapons leaving them dead/with tongues pulled out and sent to Ireland." Ah, literary license; ah, Ireland's GNP, so mighty it can afford to exploit predominantly Eastern European nationals. Perhaps some American cops too.