On -isms: APB Artists against Police Brutality Review

By | Thursday, November 05, 2015 Leave a Comment
APB: Artists against Police Brutality
Black men are stereotyped in a number of different ways. One of the primary ones is as the "angry Black man" -- the guy whose perpetual rage is barely held in check and could explode into violence at any second. It's how police viewed Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice. Darren Wilson, the officer who murdered Brown, said exactly that: "The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked."

As with all stereotypes, it's bullshit. It's an attempt to justify dehumanizing an entire group of people to fit your own prejudices, so you can stroke your own ego and feel superior. Bull. Shit.

It's not that Black people don't have a right to be angry! They have LOADS of reasons to be angry right now. And many of them are indeed furious. Even setting aside past problems that have never been fully addressed (like, you know, slavery and lynchings), you've got: people today who deny racism even exists, the high per capita volume of Blacks that are incarcerated, having a "Black-sounding" name means it's less likely to have your resume looked at favorably, the average white household has 22 times as much wealth as the average Black household, increased security in urban schools with predominantly Black students despite most school shootings occurring in suburban schools with predominantly white students, deliberate and ongoing attempts to suppress Black votes...

But anger does not always beget violence.

When the officers who killed Eric Garner were officially not even indicted for their acts, editor Bill Campbell, like many others, was enraged. But he didn't go busting windows or start throwing rocks at police. He called Jason Rodriguez and John Jennings, and they chose to make something. They were all sick of the regular feed of news where police were given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted, up to and including murder, Black citizens without consequences as long as they said they feared for the lives. But instead of unleashing their anger with destruction, they unleashed it with creation.

APB: Artists against Police Brutality is a compilation of pieces gathered together on the subject of how the police treat Black people. There are comics and pin-ups and essays, some are recollections of bad personal experiences the creators had with officers, some are biting satire, some are more analytical examinations like how the very notion of comic book superheroes itself suggests that the justice system is flawed. (I should note that "flawed" does not mean "broken.") Some of the pieces are more metaphorical; others frightfully aren't.

As with any anthology, some pieces are better than others and some pieces resonate more than others, but they are all created from a deep emotional place from each of the creators. There's a huge line-up of creators here, and I imagine most of the invitations went something like...
"Hey, this is Bill Campbell. I'm putting together a comics anthology called Artists against Police Brutality where..."

"I'M IN!"
Every work in here is deeply personal. Regardless of how they approached the topic here, this isn't about Garner, or Brown, or Rice regardless of how frequently their names get invoked. This is about Ytasha's uncle, and Melanie's dad, and Lance's kids, and Jerome's nephew... This is personal. This is personal because every one of these creators has seen people in their immediate family arrested, beaten, and/or killed by police because of the color of their skin. I'm not talking about some distant relative who's been dead a hundred years; I'm talking about people in their immediate family circle. I almost added "that they talked with and knew" but Melanie's father was buried three weeks before she was born. These creators all have something to say about police brutality, and it all comes from personal experience.

I'll be honest: this was a hard read. Not because the stories were poorly done, but because they're painful. They come from a place of pain and anger and frustration. And creator after creator has these stories of police encounters that went south. Not all of them end in death, and some of the messages are quite hopeful. But the point is that every creator has these stories. These aren't one-off instances of some rogue bad apples. These are tales that point to a systemtic problem in the structure of the organization itself. No one here is saying all cops are bad, or all cops are violent, or all cops are racist. They're saying the system itself is fundamentally unjust. Let me repeat that: No one here is saying all cops are bad. They're saying the system is fundamentally unjust.

And while the one or two stories you might hear on the news might sound like isolated incidents, having so many of them collected here in one book says otherwise. And while that makes for difficult reading, it also makes for important reading, particularly if you haven't experienced these types of problems first-hand. This is not one voice crying in the wilderness, this is Ashley A. Woods and Keith Knight and Lalo Alcaraz and Dean Haspiel and Ytasha Womack and Lance Tooks and Tak Toyoshima and Barbara Brandon-Croft and...

If you didn't understand why Ferguson blew up, you should get this. If you heard "Black Lives Matter" and tried to counter with anything, you should get this. If you've ever wondered why your friends who are people of color are more reticent to interact with the police than you are, you should get this. For that matter, if none of your friends are POC in the first place, you should get this. What's in Artists against Police Brutality is the reality for an increasing number of Americans; you should be aware of what's being done to them.
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