This Young Black Poet's Searing Words Decry the Endless Cycle of Police Brutality

A meditation on violence, from a nightstick's POV

In recent days, we've heard about police brutality and racial violence from sundry points of view.

We're heard from victims. From eyewitnesses. From shattered communities longing to heal. From marchers in cities across the globe. From politicians, police unions and prosecutors. From commentators, columnists and brands. From ministers quoting scripture. From families grieving loved ones gone before their time.

And on an endless loop, it seems, we've heard from the bloodied lips of George Floyd, an unarmed black man pinned against the pavement last week by a Minnesota policeman's knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Floyd begged for mercy, and cried out for his mother. We heard him sob for release as his life slid away.

But one voice we haven't heard from belongs to a participant so often present at such scenes of chaos and tragedy.

In the video below, Kofi Dadzie, a spoken-word poet and recording artist from Westboro, Mass., offers a fierce, percussive meditation on violence against black Americans from a police nightstick's perspective.

NIGHTSTICK by Kofi Dadzie

"I orchestrate brutality but I never wanted to compose this symphony," Dadzie begins. "We batons fell into the role masterfully, though, as the blue Beethovens adorned in badges use us to keep the beat on black notes."

Of course, nightsticks don't call the tune. Human beings engaged in systematic racism and oppression do. Only we can write a new score and make the world a safer, saner place for everyone.

Boston-based MullenLowe created the spare, affecting video as part of a program with nonprofit MassLeap designed to spotlight fresh voices speaking out on social justice. That process yielded a poetry album, Message From Our Table, with content created by Boston Arts Academy high-school students.

Here's the complete text of Dadzie's poem:

"I orchestrate brutality but I never wanted to compose this symphony
We batons fell into the role masterfully, though,
As the blue Beethovens adorned in badges used us to keep the beat on black notes
It's just that the syncopation of their screams was always the hardest to hear
As it ends
And repeats
Voices crescendo in agony as we direct the masterpiece
We helped create a piece once
Titled him 'Rodney'
Reduced his life to eight minutes of mutilation but that song got old real quick
So we found new symphony halls wherever the bars kept black notes in place
See it's hard to be a conductor for this symphony
Especially when they treat us like color guard on parade
Eager and willing to conduct the next tune
See we batons the color of midnight turn black bodies into battered heaps
Now ain't that black on black crime?
Are we just an officer's token black friend?
Will he put us down the minute we look threatening too?
We do the best to quell the energy of rebellion
We put rest on the voices of colored women
So they can hear the same tired tune over and over again
They never seem to get a solo
Only seen as a supplement to a black man's medley
The audience doesn't seem to like this piece anymore.
America don't seem to like peace anymore
Black folk never wanted to be an admittance
Hell, we never even bought tickets but we've been instrumental in it's creation
Unplugged from society all we wanted to do was make music
We never expected the dissonance of black instruments to create the best melody
At keeping time on torture was something of a classical arrangement for us
Like leaving bodies to hang in the breeze like high notes
Like massacre was musical
So not for nothing we have turned murder into an artificial artform
Have masterminded the maiming of a people and we couldn't have done it on our own because
What's a baton without an officer?
What is a conductor's wand without a maestro?
What is a black body besides brutality composed by the boys in blue?
See he who holds my handle wishes I were a whip
Misses the sound of its crack and decided to make music instead
But who am I to judge?
When I am cut from the same wood that decorates that whips handle
See we are tired of making songs out of suffering
Of turning the altercations between my maestro and black folk into twisted duets
Remove me from his hand before the body count rises like chord progression
And pray this will see a finale soon
But for now the show must go on
America—always wants­­—an encore."

Note the YouTube upload date for the video: June 6, 2019, which is a year ago tomorrow. Sadly, the same sad song keeps playing. It was the last tune George Floyd heard ringing in his shattered ears. This time, at least, millions have raised their voices in a chorus of outrage, demanding change.

A year from now, will the same angry tones echo across the land? Throngs wielding placards, choking back tears, as they pound across downtown thoroughfares, shoes beating thunderous tempos like war drums?

MullenLowe shared the work this week with a simple message: "America, do not let there be another 'encore' to George Floyd."

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David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is senior editor at Clio Awards.

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