A chance juxtaposition of readings* has suggested to me the perennial nature of America’s brutish policing streak.
In 1941, Richard Wright’s manuscript novel “The Man Who Lived Underground” is rejected by publishers who are made queasy over scenes of violence:
[Black protagonist Fred Daniels]… is arrested without explanation, kicked, punched, slammed into walls and floors, and hung upside down by his shackled ankles. “You’re playing a game,” one of the policemen tells him, “but we’ll break you, even if we have to kill you!”
In 2020, a Virginia cop responds to the queries of a motorist subjected to a routine traffic stop, “What’s going on is you’re fixing to ride the lightning, son.” The “lightning” of truculent police talk can be the electric chair or a taser.
In Wright’s fiction an innocent non-white man is coerced into confessing to the killing of a white couple. In the Virginia incident, an innocent non-white man is stopped by mistake and brutalized without provocation.
A telltale addition to the enormity of the Virginia episode is the term “son” spat out by the cop. Much dark historic lightning is trapped in that jug of vile rhetoric.
Noor Qasim, “Decades After His Death, Richard Wright Has a New Book Out,” NYTimes, 4-14-21
Matthew S. Schwartz, Emma Bowman, “Virginia Investigating Pepper-Spraying of Army Officer Caron Nazario,” http://www.npr.org, 4-13-21
(c) 2021 JMN