“let’s go in the police station!”

A few years ago in Georgia, while on a walk with my black cousin, Christopher, I wanted to stop inside the police station. He asked if I was crazy (“also, no”), I asked him why we couldn’t visit, and he said because he was a black male. I didn’t get it, and thought he was being ridiculous. We continued on.

To this day, all of my personal encounters with police have been overwhelmingly positive — I loved Officer “Friendly”, the cop who came to my elementary school every year to teach us about stranger danger and roadside safety. I know that Officer Middleton, one of the “blackest” men I know, was a huge role model for many of my high school peers who needed a little “extra” love and support (in reality, they needed to be treated like humans, rather than vermin). When recorded instances of black folx bleeding and dying, due to police brutality, began spreading across the internet, I began to understand why Chris was so against going into the police station.

C.S. Giscombe’s poem Five Dreams begins with the word “Arrested”. In the first stanza, the narrator says that they were “arrested with others, all of [them] black”. “Arrested with others” lends a certain casualness to an event that the vast majority of people never experience — in these two lines, Giscombe motions to the normalization of “black crime.” The next line “over apparently politics,” may imply that the narrator is confused, that they don’t exactly know what’s going on, but that they know their arrest is political. The narrator goes on to admit that they were “afraid of the State but the guards told jokes,”– the State is to be feared and, to the guards, the arrest of black bodies is simply a humorous game.

In the second stanza, an unidentifiable woman kisses the narrator and says, “We can’t afford martyrs.” During my first reading of this piece, I assumed that this woman was black, due to her use of the word “we.” With her display of affection combined with her warning, I assumed that she, too, was directly affected by the racism and discrimination that the narrator is assumed to face, but that she didn’t want to lose any more black lives to police brutality. In my second reading, however, I wondered if this woman were actually white, if her use of the word “we” pointed to white supremacy and white privilege. I wondered if this woman feared that black martyrs would, eventually, dismantle the structures that gave her privilege, if her kiss was one of condescension and feigned pity. Then, the narrator asks three times to be let go.

The woman releases the narrator, but “something had changed”. Months later, it turns to winter, and the narrator has finally made it home. An individual by the name of K is waiting for the narrator in the snow. I’m still a bit confused by this part of the story; however, I believe that the narrator was held against their will for months in jail, able to return home only after frost had overtake their home. Winter may also act as a metaphor; the narrator seemed to be young and confused, at the beginning of the story, but after their encounter with the police force, has become coolly hardened.

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One Response to “let’s go in the police station!”

  1. ryanheidnergreene says:

    Hey there Dominique–thanks for sharing your reading of this poem! I also flip-flopped when it came to who exactly the “we” referred to. After returning to the poem again, I’m leaning more and more towards the “we” being an assumed white, state power. Like you said, the three “let me go”s suggest that this kiss is not loving or benign. Rather, it seems to be an another form of state violence attempting to mask itself as harmless. This, I think, is similar to what we saw with the winking guards and their jokes. Additionally, the woman’s statement, “we can’t afford martyrs,” got me thinking about the literal monetary incentives built into the U.S. criminal justice system, and white supremacy broadly. A martyr brings state practices into public scrutiny. And perhaps this is why the guards earlier didn’t “shoot the one/who ran:” Not as an act of kindness, but as a strategy of self-preservation. Keep your oppression quiet. Crack another joke. Blow a kiss. Nothing sinister here. Right…

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