HBO to broadcast Anna Deavere Smith’s show on the school-to-prison pipeline Playwright reworked ‘Notes From the Field’ after the killings of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Philando Castile

Actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith is a master of verbatim theater, a marriage between documentary storytelling and the stage that involves the actor re-enacting the words of her subjects. Her latest work, which is debuting on HBO on Saturday at 8 p.m., is Notes From the Field, a one-woman show that delves into the school-to-prison pipeline.

If you’re not a theater nerd, you’re probably more familiar with Deavere Smith from her guest star turns as Rainbow’s mother on black-ish or as the lip-pursing-but-ultimately-loving hospital administrator Gloria Akalitus from Nurse Jackie.

For years, Deavere Smith, 67, who is also a professor at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, has used her one-woman shows to examine race relations and other complicated social problems. Her career has provided a blueprint on how to produce art with a conscience without making it dogmatic.

Fires in the Mirror: Crown Heights, Brooklyn and Other Identities (1992) looked at the Crown Heights riot of 1991 from the perspectives of both black and Jewish residents. Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 (1994) was about the Rodney King riots. Let Me Down Easy (2008) was about health care and the fragility of human life.

All were constructed from the same process: Deavere Smith traveled across the country to interview hundreds of people — for Notes From the Field, she interviewed 250 — and distilled them down to the 20 or so most effective and moving accounts. Then, Deavere Smith recreates these people on stage: their voices, their clothes, their mannerisms, their emotions, their words. She is a reporter in an actor’s body, and her expeditions in search of the truth earned her the George Polk Career Award in journalism from Long Island University last year.

“I had content that I felt that I needed to rush to get onstage and a brief window where Americans were thinking about race.”

“One of the deans of political journalism, David Broder, said to me The New York Times should change that little thing ‘All the news that’s fit to print’ to ‘All the news that’s fit to print — by deadline,’ ” Deavere Smith said during an interview at HBO’s offices in New York. “I have a much longer, fatter deadline. Yes, I’m told, ‘This is previews and this is opening night’ and I have to be ready. But … I’m lingering and lumbering around in a way that [reporters] can’t. I’m like a cow. I gather all this stuff, and then I just sit around and chew it.”

For Notes From the Field, Deavere Smith spoke with experts, teachers and lawmakers. But she also interviewed people whose voices often get lost in the debate over the brokenness of our criminal justice and public school systems: the students and inmates who pass through them.

One account from Denise Dodson, a prisoner at the Maryland Correctional Institution, is particularly wrenching. Dodson speaks about how getting an education while incarcerated has been pivotal in changing the way she sees herself. Still, she told Deavere Smith that she thinks it’s fair that she’s imprisoned on charges of conspiracy and attempted murder. Dodson’s boyfriend killed the man who was trying to rape her, mid-act. The overwhelming majority of women who are imprisoned are survivors of domestic or intimate partner abuse.

Deavere Smith originally staged a shorter version of Notes From the Field in 2014 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and brought it to New York in 2016. The New York Times called it “wonderfully energizing” and labeled Deavere Smith “the American theater’s most dynamic and sophisticated oral historian.”

She had written and researched it before Michael Brown, before Tamir Rice, before Philando Castile, before Walter Scott. Since then, she’s updated it. The HBO adaptation includes Deavere’s depictions of Bree Newsome, the activist and artist who was arrested in June 2015 after she scaled the flagpole of the South Carolina Statehouse to remove the Confederate flag that hung there, and Niya Kenny, the former student at Spring Valley High School in Richland County, South Carolina, who filmed her classmate being dragged from her desk and handcuffed by a school resource officer.

“I wasn’t planning to actually make a full-fledged play out of my project, but I did because I had content that I felt that I needed to rush to get onstage and a brief window where Americans were thinking about race,” Deavere Smith said, citing the cellphone videos of police killing unarmed black people. “These windows are always brief, and in fact, I think it is not a picture that is as strong right now as it was, say, in 2015, because other things are happening and some of those things are distractions.”

“I don’t need to know any more smart people. I’d like to meet more kind people.”

Deavere Smith was participating in a panel discussion with CNN commentator Van Jones and former Obama White House chief of staff Valerie Jarrett recently at New York’s 92nd Street Y recently when she reiterated that an actor’s greatest tool is empathy. That empathy, combined with curiosity, results in the most emotionally arresting performance of Notes From the Field, when Deavere Smith recreates the words of Allen Bullock, the protester who filmed the arrest of Freddie Gray.

Her performance, filmed in front of a live audience at Second Stage Theater in New York, is kinetic and engaging. Her face is superimposed on a huge screen behind her as she walks the stage, video camera in hand, sporting a Copwatch hoodie. She recreates Bullock’s anguish at witnessing Gray being thrown into a Baltimore police wagon, his anger as he saw officers restraining Gray with leg shackles and dragging him away, simply for the mistake of making eye contact with them. Deavere Smith challenges the audience to see Gray as both subject and object.

Despite a dramatic deep dive that complements the work of Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) and Ava DuVernay (13th), Deavere Smith isn’t ready to call herself a prison abolitionist, like those who want to raze the prison-industrial complex entirely. But she thinks efforts to ban The New Jim Crow from prisons, or shut down prison libraries altogether, are misguided.

“It’s terrible. Terrible,” Deavere Smith said. “They can try to ban it all they want, but you and I both know that the walls of prisons are very porous.”

Although she’s arguably more knowledgeable about schools and prisons than a majority of Americans at this point, Deavere Smith avoids being prescriptive. When it comes to prisons, she’s not Angela Davis, and she’s similarly agnostic about charter schools despite the fact that her reporting led her to conclude that American public schools are “a disaster.” They often fail poor students, students of color, disabled students and students for whom English is a second language, and they’re more segregated today than they were in the late 1960s.

“Most of the people I know who have charter schools want to be able to boast and brag about success and how many kids they send to college,” Deavere Smith said. “And even those things make me nervous when that’s the way they talk about the experience. ‘Well, we’re sending every single person or every single person in our class graduated with such and such SAT score. They’re all going to college.’

“And you go, ‘OK, great.’ But something about it bothers me, and I think what bothers me is that there’s only one measuring stick for success. I know a lot of smart people. I don’t need to know any more smart people. I’d like to meet more kind people. I’d like to meet more generous people. I’d like to meet more forgiving people. … I’d like to see them get commended. You know, smart’s just overrated, as far as I’m concerned.”

A veteran black officer teaches police how not to kill people

Sgt. Curtis Davenport The shooting instructor 27 years in uniform

“I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else. The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took.”“I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else. The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took.”

At the end of an unmarked driveway in a wooded area of southeast Atlanta, past the SWAT team barracks and armored vehicles, next to the firing range where bullets pierce paper heads and hearts, Sgt. Curtis Davenport teaches police how not to kill people.

As commander of the firearms training unit, Davenport’s basic responsibility is to make sure Atlanta’s 2,000 officers can hit those paper targets. But over the past five years, as police killings of unarmed African-Americans caused a national uproar, Davenport’s job evolved to include “de-escalation” training — encouraging police to avoid pulling the trigger at all.

One Wednesday this summer, 22 police officers filed into Davenport’s classroom inside a small, one-story building. He stood at a lectern wearing khaki pants and an olive drab polo shirt. The pop-pop-pop-pop-pop of gunfire was audible from the range 40 yards away. On the walls hung promotional photographs of Glock firearms, including one that showed a close-up of a pistol clenched in a white fist, ATLANTA POLICE printed along the barrel, the muzzle an ominous black tunnel. “Confidence,” the caption read. “It’s What You Carry.”

Surrounded by all this deadly force, Davenport began his mission of peace.

He had invited me to attend his two-hour class, shoot on the range and participate in a video simulation of dangerous police encounters, all to help counter today’s anti-police narrative. The backdrop was the city of Atlanta, cradle of the civil rights movement and the modern black mecca, where 54 percent of the population and 58 percent of the police are black. Atlanta is one of the few major American cities where the police force comes close to reflecting the diversity of the population — which has not deterred Black Lives Matter protests and activism within its city limits.

Davenport is 50 but looks 35. He still has the muscular physique of the college fullback who reached the last round of cuts at Atlanta Falcons training camp. He can talk with the spin of a politician — Davenport was the Atlanta Police Department spokesman for three years — or break fool like your country cousin. He can quote Scripture or Ice Cube. Relying on the laws of God and man, he walks the tightrope between black and blue with serenity and confidence.

“I was born black. I’m going to die black. I’m a black man before I’m anything else,” Davenport said. “The fact that I’m a police officer is a job that I do. It’s an oath that I took. I swore to uphold laws. I swore to protect your rights. I swore to protect you when you can’t protect yourself. So while that is a part of my responsibility, being a police officer does not make Curtis Davenport who he is.”

Yet, after 27 years in uniform, he sees the world through a blue lens and can’t help but feel the pressure.

“Police officers to a certain extent have been dehumanized,” he said. “We’re not people with feelings. It’s like they want us to be robots.”

“It’s hard to change public perception, it’s hard to change what people think and feel about you, it’s hard to change their interpretation of what you do. But what we can do is we can change ourselves.”“It’s hard to change public perception, it’s hard to change what people think and feel about you, it’s hard to change their interpretation of what you do. But what we can do is we can change ourselves.”

Change, get fired or quit

Inside Davenport’s classroom, 16 of the 22 officers were black, including two women. Everyone carried a gun except Davenport. He clicked his PowerPoint to life and began:

“The public demanded that police be reformed down to their training, and this is one of the results,” he said, citing former President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. “So they came up with this course, and if I were to sum it all up in a phrase, it wants the police officers in America to get out of the warrior mentality. And they want you instead to adopt what’s called a guardian mentality.

“That may be kind of hard for some people, especially those who’ve been doing this a long time or those who don’t think that’s what they want to do.”

For the resistant cops, Davenport offered three options: You can change. You can keep acting the same and get fired, possibly indicted. Or you can quit.

“It’s hard to change public perception, it’s hard to change what people think and feel about you, it’s hard to change their interpretation of what you do. But what we can do is we can change ourselves.”

Next came the details. Davenport drilled down into exactly when and how the Constitution and the state of Georgia permit police to use force. He told the officers to look for alternatives — just because they can legally use force doesn’t mean they should. The ultimate goal is “voluntary compliance.”

“De-escalation is all about utilizing other options,” Davenport said. “It’s not about taking away use of deadly force. What it’s about is, do I have to use deadly force? Do I have another option present?”

He covered tactical details such as how distance determines appropriate force. He reviewed what every officer already knew: The law allows you to shoot unarmed suspects. Always shoot at center mass — not at a leg or shoulder. Shoot as many times as necessary to end the threat. But if you shoot one unnecessary bullet, it can cost you your job or your freedom.

Over and over, he advised officers to control their egos. Everybody who wears a badge has a big ego, he said. “That is our biggest hindrance.

“If you work an extra job and somebody gotta leave, you tell them to leave like, ‘You, out, get on out of here.’ They walking to the door, ‘Ah, you sorry m—–f—–, I’ll whoop your a– on the street.’ Guess what? He walking out. I don’t have to have ego. People looking at it, ‘Aw, you see that police, man, he a chump. He took all that stuff.’ End of the day, I got voluntary compliance. Make sense? That’s de-escalation in a nutshell.”

There was a caveat, though, that explains why many police who kill unarmed civilians are not prosecuted.

“De-escalation is only to be used when you’re dealing with nonviolent suspects,” Davenport told his class. “If you’re dealing with a violent suspect, do what you do.”

Kevin D. Lilies for The Undefeated

Kevin D. Lilies for The Undefeated

Sgt. Davenport works with officers in the classroom of the Atlanta Police Department Pistol Range on how to de-escalate situations and what indicators might lead to drawing one’s weapon. Officers work on their accuracy on the shooting range to ensure they do no more damage than is necessary to subdue an attacker.

Life after football

Davenport was born and raised in the city, with summers spent on his grandparents’ rural Georgia farms. After graduating from Lithonia High School east of Atlanta, he earned a computer science degree at Clark Atlanta University while playing football as a 5-foot-10, 260-pound battering ram of a fullback. In four college seasons, he had four carries for 4 yards and four touchdowns. The running back he blocked for got drafted. Despite stone hands and slow feet, Davenport almost made the Falcons from their 1989 training camp. He still feels like he has one more bone-crunching block in him.

After football, Davenport needed a job and the police department was hiring. His physicality served him well when he began patrolling Atlanta’s roughest neighborhoods in 1991 and became an undercover narcotics investigator in 2005. Arrests led to lots of fights — “You’re taking somebody someplace they don’t want to go.” He has a scar on his thigh from being bitten by a 300-pound woman who wanted no part of his handcuffs. He trained in taekwondo, kung fu and ground fighting. He learned how to head off physical battles just with the bulge of his arms and chest beneath his tailored uniform. He’s 230 pounds now, still works out ferociously, would like to be 215 but his wife bakes a mean batch of cookies.

Davenport was raised in the church and was saved in 2002. Giving his life to the Lord made him more patient and tolerant, and also unwilling to take shortcuts that some officers considered permissible.

He keeps a Bible in his office at the firing range. It’s as much a part of his job as the dozens of bullets all over his desk — inside ammunition boxes, encased in curved rifle magazines, loose in a plastic cup. After the class, explaining his belief that policing is based on biblical principles, he read from Romans 13:1:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

Then verses 3 and 4:

For he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

The bullets on his desk looked more lethal now. Davenport closed his Bible.

“I ain’t asking you to agree with it,” he said. “I’m just telling you what it says.

“When I put my actions up for judgment, I didn’t put it up for your judgment,” Davenport said. “Sometimes, by pleasing him, I don’t please them.

“Sometimes,” he added, “ ‘them’ is other police officers.”

I thought about the off-the-books lawmaking “contempt of cop” punishable by a night in jail, and remembered Freddie Gray running from police, getting cuffed and then being carried out of the police van with a broken neck.

Last June, the police chief asked Davenport for his expert opinion of a video that showed an officer punching a man in the face while trying to arrest him. Davenport referred back to his secular Bible — the Standard Operating Procedures of the Atlanta Police Department.

“Force must be reasonable, and it must be necessary,” he said. “Was what he did reasonable and necessary? The answer is no.”

The officer was suspended for 20 days without pay. That upset the rank and file, as the arrested man had a reputation for fighting back against police. Davenport said that a few years ago the officer would have received little to no punishment.

I asked whether that’s a positive development.

“Whether good or bad,” Davenport replied, “it lets you know that policing has changed. He did the old actions, and he got the new punishment.”

Is there a downside?

“We have a lot of police reform, but no community reform,” he said. Criminals “are still doing the same stuff, but I can’t do the same stuff to combat it.”

Davenport recognizes that mass incarceration has devastated the black community. He believes African-Americans are treated unfairly in the justice system. But he sees another part of the equation too.

“Let’s be honest. Was anybody protesting when Ray Ray shot Peanut?” he said. “Just two people who live in the ’hood. I think that’s a far bigger issue, black-on-black crime, than blue-on-black violence.”

It was time to shoot on the range, a manicured green quadrant with a steep hill of red dirt at one end. Davenport outfitted me with a holster and police-issue 9 mm pistol. He instructed me how to hold the weapon, sight down the barrel and ignore the “unnatural event” of setting off a tiny bomb in my hand. Pulling the trigger took as little effort as turning on my phone. A hole appeared in the paper person’s head, and I was filled with sadness at the thought of black boys carrying death in their pockets.

Black and Blue: A veteran black officer teaches police how not to kill people

Ferguson and Sunday dinner

The biggest complaint Davenport has with police work is the pay. In Atlanta, a sergeant’s salary tops out at $72,000 before overtime. Davenport brings in another 10 or 20 grand a year with extra jobs, primarily as security at the Tabernacle concert hall, so he can “enjoy some of the comforts of life.”

It was very comfortable riding in the black leather passenger seat of his new Ford F-150 King Ranch pickup. We pulled up to his five-bedroom brick home at the end of a cul-de-sac in the suburb of Decatur. Inside the garage was his beloved 2007 Harley-Davidson Street Glide, parked near a black leather jacket emblazoned with the name of his old motorcycle club, the Buffalo Soldiers. Davenport and his wife, Valerie, who works in the UPS finance department, bought the house out of foreclosure in 1996.

Curtis and Valerie, an amateur bodybuilder, cooked Sunday dinner together in their cozy kitchen. Their pit bull puppy, Bella, rescued from a shelter, scampered underfoot. Curtis dropped steaks and salmon on the grill. Valerie sautéed cabbage and prepared mac and cheese and cornbread. A box of takeout fried chicken sat open on the island counter. Crab legs boiled, sending enough “Slap Ya Mama” seasoning through the air to draw a cough. Nothing special, this spread. Just a regular Sunday.

Their sons arrived: 23-year-old Clayton, who attended Alabama A&M on a football scholarship and now works as a plumber, and 21-year-old Cameron, who went to work for CSX Railroad out of high school. Next came Davenport’s father, Jimmy, and his stepmother, Karen. Jimmy and Karen got married when Davenport was 16; he calls her Mom. Last to arrive was their daughter Sydney, 20, a sophomore at Albany State University.

A lawnmower buzzed outside, pushed by a former Atlanta police officer who went to prison in the aftermath of a scandal over falsified search warrants. Davenport could mow his own lawn, but the former officer needs the work.

Sitting in a paid-off house, bellies full, paychecks steady, driveway full of cars, the Davenport family’s biggest immediate concern was whether the Falcons could make it back to the Super Bowl. Curtis and Jimmy have season tickets. Nobody felt conflicted about police work or passionate about Black Lives Matter.

Valerie described her husband as a loyal, responsible, dedicated man who follows the rules. Clayton recalled his dad often bringing his poor teammates from youth football over for weekends. “We always were bringing in strays,” Valerie said. “He wants to do his part. He wants to help. Helping is part of his job. He really enjoys what he does now, because it’s a responsibility for him to make sure those police do what they’re supposed to when they have that gun in their hand.”

When the brownies and ice cream came out, I asked whether the family had argued over any of the recent high-profile police killings.

“Michael Brown,” Davenport said, referring to the unarmed 18-year-old killed by officer Darren Wilson in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. “They was all for that poor Michael Brown. The dirty police, they did him wrong. Y’all was ready to picket and tear up Atlanta for Michael Brown.”

Davenport told his family all along that Wilson would not be charged with a crime. There was no apparent distinction between “would not” and “should not” in Davenport’s mind. According to the Justice Department report released by former Attorney General Eric Holder, Brown punched Wilson in the face when confronted, grabbed his gun, was shot in the hand, ran away, then charged back at the officer. The law allowed Wilson to shoot Brown.

When the killing first hit the news, Davenport’s father, Jimmy, was angry. A retired post office supervisor, he was born in 1947 in Wedowee, Alabama, where segregation was the law, white people called him “boy” and there were no black cops. But once the facts of the case came out, Jimmy Davenport agreed with his son.

Jimmy’s wife, Karen, wouldn’t go that far.

“Curtis was talking about the law and what the policeman did. I was talking about the broader perspective of policing,” said Karen, a retired school principal and college administrator.

“If Michael Brown had been white, let’s just play it out,” she continued. “If he had been white and stole something from the store, the police would probably be like, boys will be boys, he didn’t mean to do it. It wouldn’t have escalated.”

Her sergeant son interrupted. “Wait a minute now,” Davenport said. “Did it escalate because of the police officer’s actions? Or did it escalate because of Michael Brown’s actions?”

“It escalated because of both actions,” his mother said. “I think it escalated also because he was a black guy, they said he stole something from the store, and then he became confrontational, and then it escalated.”

“Who became confrontational?” Davenport asked.

“Michael Brown.’’

“So he was the aggressor.”

“My point is, Curtis, if it was a different situation with a different complexion young man, I really wonder if it would have escalated to that extent.”

“If ands and buts were candy and nuts, oh, what a party we’d have,” Davenport said.

Everybody laughed. Love filled the room, not the vitriol that tore through America after Brown’s death sparked riots and turned Black Lives Matter from a hashtag into a movement. But the philosophical chasm remained. Karen Davenport saw Brown’s death in the context of policing as a tool of mass incarceration, in a society rife with racial bias. Sgt. Davenport focused on what he teaches in his course — when the law says an officer can pull the trigger.

De-escalation is only for nonviolent suspects. Otherwise, do what you do.

A scandal in the department

Atlanta buys its heroin in the Bluff, where addicts and dealers lurk in abandoned houses as children play nearby. Davenport worked these west Atlanta streets as an undercover narcotics investigator, making drug buys and serving warrants. Jumping out of an unmarked van, ready to deliver some justice, that was fun. If a suspect wanted to put up a fight, the crew stepped aside and Davenport took him down.

“It’s a different kind of trust we had, where you trust your partner with your life,” Davenport said. “Is there any greater trust than that? If you’re not in that circle, it’s hard to compare it.”

He would masquerade as a junkie, walking shirtless into a drug house or wearing a suit and tie like a downtown businessman. Once he was buying crack in a second-floor apartment when two men burst in, fired their guns in the air, and robbed the drug dealers. Davenport thought about pulling his hidden weapon but decided against blowing his cover. That was the closest he ever came to firing his weapon at someone.

In 2006, he was promoted to sergeant and left the squad. Six months later, Davenport’s former narcotics team, led by Officer Gregg Junnier, crept onto a porch in the Bluff, wearing plainclothes. They smashed through the door and burst inside. The homeowner, 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston, thought she was being burglarized and fired her revolver at the intruders. The officers fired back and killed her.

At first, authorities said police had bought drugs from Johnston’s house that same day. But Johnston’s neighbors knew she was innocent. Soon it was exposed that Junnier lied on the search warrant, lied on other warrants and was breaking other laws too. Junnier and two other officers went to prison.

It hurts Davenport to admit that Junnier, a man he would have taken a bullet for, was a crooked cop. He believes he should have seen it. He wonders how many warrants he served that Junnier falsified. Davenport was never accused of any wrongdoing connected to Junnier’s crimes. But Junnier’s crimes get Davenport accused of wrongdoing just for wearing his uniform.

Yet even after the Johnston scandal, which resulted in an overhaul of the Atlanta Police Department narcotics unit, Davenport doesn’t see systemic problems with policing.

“I would say 98 percent of police officers throughout the country do a fantastic job day in and day out,” he said. “But that never gets publicized, right? You don’t have the family members from somebody you helped on Good Morning America telling about that. But the 2 percent are the guys who make bad decisions and do bad things that gets 98 percent of the publicity.”

There’s a difference, though, between outliers on the police force and in other professions. Those 2 percent of bad cops can ruin lives, even take them.

Davenport accepts that higher level of responsibility and says police departments need to do a better job of identifying problem officers.

“You don’t go from being a good, honest cop to being someone who plants drugs or evidence, or might be a little bit quick to kill. There are other signs. They might take shortcuts prior to that. When we see that we have to report it, and we got to either get them retrained or get rid of them.”

“It’s a different kind of trust we had, where you trust your partner with your life. Is there any greater trust than that? If you’re not in that circle, it’s hard to compare it.”“It’s a different kind of trust we had, where you trust your partner with your life. Is there any greater trust than that? If you’re not in that circle, it’s hard to compare it.”

Engaging the threat

After shooting at the range, Davenport took me to the police academy, where pictures of 39 slain officers hung on a wall. Inside a darkened room was the Milo Range Theater 300, a $120,000 system featuring a circle of five huge video screens that create an immersive training experience.

Since 2015, Atlanta police have killed nine people, including seven African-Americans, two of whom were unarmed, according to The Washington Post’s national database of police killings. That’s about the same number of killings as the comparably sized cities of Kansas City, Missouri, and Long Beach, California.

A half-dozen officers watched as I strapped up with a video-game-type pistol. Davenport said to look for the threat and engage it. I asked what “engage” means.

“You can talk,” he said, “or handle it with your sidearm.”

A scene unfolded: A traffic stop of a pickup truck. I approached on the driver’s side and saw an old man behind the wheel. I asked him to put his hands on the wheel — he did not comply. I demanded that he put his hands out of the car window — nothing. The camera backed away. I was about five paces behind the truck. The man got out. I drew my weapon and yelled at him to lay down on the ground. He kept walking toward the tailgate. I yelled I would shoot if he did not lay down. My heart pounded. I felt frustrated and discombobulated by his refusal to obey. Was he sick? Stupid? The old man grabbed something from the truck bed and spun toward me. I blasted him. He fell down and dropped the gun in his hand. The screen went dark.

Davenport said I could have shot him sooner. But what if he didn’t intend to pull out a weapon?

“What do I care more about?” he said. “Going to jail, or going home alive?”

Another scene: A call about a “disturbance” at a park. Such sketchy information is often all police have to start with. Two young men were talking near a parked car. I questioned them, but they didn’t respond. I put my hand on my gun. They put their hands up and I saw one had a gun in his waistband. A woman suddenly got out of the vehicle and approached me with something in her hand. I almost shot her. She was filming with her phone. I yelled at everybody. She lay down in the road. I felt much more scared with three people than with one. I threatened to shoot the gunman if he didn’t lie down. He bolted toward the woods. I let him go. The screen went dark.

Davenport observed that it’s not against the law in Georgia to carry a gun in your waistband. Nobody had broken any laws in that scenario.

Then Davenport tried one.

Another traffic stop. A young woman got out of her car and put a gun to her head. Davenport went into de-escalation mode. He asked her to calm down. “Let’s talk, let’s just talk, you can put the gun down,” Davenport said. She didn’t listen. Davenport kept talking, his gun in hand but pointed at a 45-degree angle toward the ground.

Was this a nonviolent subject? Could he shoot? Should he?

The woman swung the gun toward Davenport and fired. Davenport let off eight shots. The screen went dark.

The technician played back a recording of the encounter. The woman shot first. Davenport’s first shot missed.

“This might have been my bad day,” he said.

A glimpse inside a high-tech police simulation at the Atlanta PD

The lesson of Jonah

Davenport, an ordained minister for 12 years, is an assistant pastor at Greater Travelers Rest House of Hope Atlanta, performing weddings and baptisms and leading Bible studies. I sat with him one Sunday in a front pew of the majestic 7,000-seat sanctuary, close enough to the concert-grade sound system to feel the stomp-stomp of the bass drum.

Black faces filled the ground-level pews and the two balconies. Stained-glass black faces gazed from the windows behind the choir. Cameras broadcast live on the internet. Aged mothers in white hats and dresses were honored. The band played “I’m Nothing Without You,” “Jesus Is My Help,” “The Lord Is Blessing Me Right Now.” Davenport worshipped calmly, tapping his gator-clad toe to the music, with no waving hands or extra amens.

Then Dr. E. Dewey Smith Jr. got to preaching about Jonah.

God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah rebelled and boarded a ship for Tarshish. Smith described how God sent a storm to afflict Jonah’s ship. His honey-coated voice was calm, but we knew what was coming. Smith described how the terrified sailors started praying to their pagan gods and throwing things overboard.

The ship captain went below and saw Jonah sleeping. “What is this? Sleeping? Get up!” Smith barked, paraphrasing the Scripture. “Pray to your God! Maybe your God will see we are in trouble and rescue us.”

“Jonah!” Smith shouted. “STAY WOKE!”

The congregation bubbled. Davenport remained silent. Pastor Smith is his friend, but Davenport knew what was coming.

“Stay woke and see it’s OK for Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to get shot in Minnesota,” the pastor said. “It’s OK for police to shoot somebody live on camera with a baby in the back seat, who has gun ownership and a license to carry and see him get five bullets into him and the officer is acquitted and gets paid to leave with no repercussions! It’s OK for a 2-year-old baby to get shot in Minnesota, an 80-year-old woman to get shot in Minnesota, a 12-year-old — all unarmed — to get shot in Minnesota and nothing happens. But as soon as a woman is shot, whose skin is much, much lighter than yours and mine, then all of a sudden the police chief has to resign! All these other folk got shot and nothing ever happened! I gotta tell you, you better STAY WOKE!”

The congregation exploded in agreement, a bullet aimed at the heart of a servant who believes in the nobility of policing. Davenport’s face betrayed no emotion as he balanced between the black and the blue.

Daily Dose: 12/1/17 The World Cup 2018 groups are set

It’s finally Friday, and this week has felt like it was 17 years long, personally. But we’re getting down into the official Christmas season, so spread a little holiday cheer and make your friends and family feel better.

So, the defecation has hit the ventilation for the White House. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, which is very plainly always a bad idea. Flynn has admitted to as much and plans to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. In short, this has suddenly gotten VERY messy. Basically, with his cooperation, you’ve got to assume that he’s going to directly implicate Trump and perhaps the vice president as well in colluding with Russia. Yikes.

We all remember Philando Castile. The man who was shot by police in front of his girlfriend and her daughter while sitting in his car in Minnesota is remembered as a loving soul who worked at an elementary school. His legacy has led to thousands of kids getting their lunches paid for through a fund, and recently his girlfriend was awarded an $800,000 settlement as a result of his death. Then, a local council member tweeted that she would blow the cash in six months on crack cocaine. Seriously.

Office life can be stressful. It’s certainly not the rigor of, say, working in a mine, but it comes with its own issues. Folks stealing your food, general malaise and required meetings can cause problems for the most sane person, but, alas, it’s a life we deal with. Different people then choose to blow off steam in different ways. I like to throw a tennis ball around the office. Some people exercise. But the new bit apparently is bringing in an entire petting zoo to help boost office morale. I guess this is a perk? Petting zoos don’t smell great.

The World Cup groups are set. FIFA placed the 32 teams that will be participating in next summer’s tournament in Russia and there were no real surprises, nor is there an obvious Group Of Death. Basically, the home nation’s got a pretty easy path, shocker. Argentina and Nigeria will be in the same group again, while Panama is in the tournament for the first time. Of course, a few major soccer nations are out, so that changes a few things. And of course, the ceremony was spectacularly absurd, per usual. Here’s the schedule.

Free Food

Coffee Break: The holidays are very stressful. Partially because they’re all jammed together, which has pros and cons. Pros: Once they’re done, you’re rid of them for the rest of the year. Cons: The bunching creates an environment so loaded and stressful that few people can deal. Maybe we should move Christmas?

Snack Time: If you’re looking for a way to pass some time over the next few days, check out this series of Latino short films that PBS made available to stream.

Dessert: These kicks are flat-out dope. Happy weekend, y’all.

Daily Dose: 9/1/17 Serena is in labor … how cool would it be if she gave birth during the US Open?

Hey, all. We made it to the end of the week. If you have big plans for the holiday, please do try to enjoy them safely. It’s the end of summer, so live it up. As for the tweet below, you have to see this tweet first. And the first reply.

If President Donald Trump has his way, he will deport millions and cripple the economy in immeasurable ways. All for the sake of doctrine. He’s set to decide soon on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), better known as dreamers, who were protected under laws instituted by President Barack Obama. Why would you kick out people who had no choice in the matter and are doing everything they can to make this country better? Well, reputation, of course. But good news, I guess: POTUS says he has a big heart, and will use it in this case.

The rescue effort is obviously still on re: Hurricane Harvey. One of the toughest parts about natural disasters is that all sorts of people pop up out of the woodwork claiming that they want to help. Really, all they’re trying to do is take your money in the name of goodwill. Heck, even the Red Cross has issues with this. But, clearly, there are all sorts of groups that need everything from diapers to computers, so every donated piece counts. Here’s a list of places that can point you in the right direction to assist.

We all remember Philando Castile. The young man from Minnesota who worked in a school lunchroom who was shot and killed by a police officer who was scared of him. Mind you, Castile was obeying the law in every way, doing exactly what the cop told him to do, and he was shot anyway. In front of his girlfriend and her daughter. One of the things he was known to do was pay the school lunch debts of kids at his school so they could eat without embarrassment. Now, with the Philando Feeds The Children fund, anyone can contribute.

🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨ALERT🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨🚨 SERENA IS IN LABOR. Look, when this was news in Beyoncé’s case, I was excited. But Serena Williams is my favorite athlete of all time, and if she has a baby during the actual US Open, thus crushing all other news coming out of that tournament, it will be one of the biggest owns of the tennis world, ever. Then, imagine if sister Venus Williams wins the tournament, AND DEDICATES THE WINS TO HER NEWEST FAMILY MEMBER. I cannot wait for this to happen. I legitimately can. Not. Wait.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Police do some pretty despicable things, but forcing nurses to act against their own interests or risk the threat of arrest is foul, unethical and should be illegal. This clip of a nurse getting dragged away because she wouldn’t administer a blood test to an unconscious patient is really hard to watch.

Snack Time: You might think that the Amazon-Whole Foods merger is just a big money grab from Jeff Bezos, but it might actually have some real-world effects that make a difference, for the better.

Dessert: Behold, my second favorite video of the week.

Wale officiates a WWE rap battle and other news of the week The Week That Was July 3-7

Monday 07.3.17

President Donald Trump tweeted: “At some point the Fake News will be forced to discuss our great jobs numbers, strong economy, success with ISIS, the border & so much else!” An hour later, CNBC posted that General Motors’ June U.S. sales were “down 4.7% vs. estimate 1.8% decline.” Not even a person with zero front office experience wanted to work for Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. NBC News referred to Sally Hemings, President Thomas Jefferson’s slave and victim, as the former president’s “mistress.” A family carrying $93,000 in undeclared cash on their person through the Philadelphia International Airport were returned just $3,000 of the cash after being stopped by federal agents. The city of St. Louis has decided to push its minimum wage back from $10 per hour to $7.70; Gov. Eric Greitens (R-Missouri) said the previous wage, a 23 percent difference, would “take money out of people’s pockets.” Five alcohol companies have pledged over $67 million to study whether or not there are any scientific benefits to having a glass of alcohol a day. Oregon police killed an armed man trying to steal a helicopter from a local airport. Golden State Warriors forward and NBA Finals MVP Kevin Durant took about $9 million less in salary for some reason. Hip-hop artist Azealia Banks, who once called fellow rapper Iggy Azalea “Igloo Australia” and threatened to “throw a jar of my piss at her,” will join Azalea on a future song. A spokesman for Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine) called assertions of the governor leaving the state for a 10-day vacation amid budget negotiations “fake news” despite two lawmakers from the same party claiming that the governor called and told them himself. Chief Justice John Roberts, speaking at his son’s graduation, told students, “I hope you will be treated unfairly so that you will come to know the value of justice”; four days before, the Supreme Court partially allowed the banning of Muslims from six countries. A 73-year-old Colorado woman drove an SUV into the swimming pool of a local resort. Kato Kaelin, friend of O.J. Simpson and a witness in the former football player’s murder trial, won a $12,000 raffle at a Milwaukee Brewers game. The White House refused to comment on the origin of the WWE-inspired video that Trump tweeted out on Sunday, denying that the video came from an anti-Semitic Reddit user.

Tuesday 07.4.17

CNN identified the Reddit user who created the GIF of Trump pummeling a WWE performer with a CNN logo superimposed over the wrestler’s face, which the president subsequently posted to his personal Twitter account; the user also apologized for his other offensive posts, claiming, “One of my best friends is a homosexual and one of my best friends is Jewish and one of my best friends is Muslim.” In “who made the potato salad?” news, a Washington Post food editor added cauliflower and feta cheese to his recipe. Hall of Fame professional wrestler Ric Flair, 68, and rapper Waka Flocka Flame, 31, celebrated Independence Day together. The Youngstown State University Police Department warned travelers about not wearing their seat belts to the tune of rap trio Migos’ “Bad and Boujee”: “Rain drops. Drop tops. This Independence Day weekend don’t get caught with your seatbelt OFF OFF OFF. U know what we’re saying @Migos.” In unrelated news, last month a YSU police officer was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Hip-hop artist Wale officiated a rap battle between professional wrestlers New Day and the Usos during WWE’s Smackdown Live, with the latter mentioning the alleged sex tape of one of the members of the former. ESPN’s Chris Haynes reported that Utah Jazz forward Gordon Hayward agreed to sign with the Boston Celtics, other reporters confirmed the report, and then minutes later Hayward’s agent refuted the alleged deal; five hours later, Hayward announced that he had indeed signed with the Celtics. Boston guard Marcus Smart tweeted, “What a celebration on this 4th of July! @gordonhayward Congrats and welcome!” and minutes later, it was reported that the Celtics were trying to trade Smart. Jazz center Rudy Gobert, Hayward’s former teammate, posted a video on his social media account singing along to Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” which includes the lyrics: “These hoes ain’t loyal.” The heirs of a Florida man who hid his dead wife’s body in a freezer for eight years to continue collecting her Social Security checks have repaid the government over $15,000. The Minnesota judge who presided over the Philando Castile manslaughter case wrote a letter of support to the jury that was responsible for acquitting Saint Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez. A tennis website said No. 82-ranked Mandy Minella pulled “a Serena” by playing a Grand Slam match while pregnant, though, unlike Serena Williams at January’s Australian Open, Minella lost in the first round of Wimbledon. Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid yelled, “F— LaVar Ball!” during an Instagram livestream.

Wednesday 07.5.17

Rapper Tupac Shakur once told singer Madonna, whom he dated in the early 1990s, that he could no longer date her because she was white, and “I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was.” Corona beer signed a marketing deal with the University of Texas; the school’s athletic director called the partnership an opportunity to “promote the excitement and pageantry of collegiate sports.” Flying ants took over courts at Wimbledon. Reality television star Rob Kardashian posted nude photos of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna on his Instagram account, accusing her of cheating with multiple men and having a drug and alcohol problem. Loquacious rapper T.I. butted in, for some reason, telling Kardashian to “take this L” and not look like a “Ronald McDonald the Duck”; Kardashian, still not getting out of his own way, then responded by accusing T.I. of paying Blac Chyna to have a threesome with him and his estranged wife, Tameka “Tiny” Harris. A conspiracy theory surrounding the murder of a former Democratic National Committee staffer is now being used to sell anti-aging face cream. Hip-hop artist Lil Yachty does not eat fruit. Vatican police busted a drug-fueled gay orgy at the apartment of an aide to one of Pope Francis’s closest advisers. In the most anticipated matchup since Mitt Romney-Evander Holyfield, late-night TV host Chelsea Handler will debate recently fired TV host Tomi Lahren. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers plans to replace recently departed players Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford with 35-year-old guard Tony Allen. Cleveland Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson, entering his 17th season and owed $2.5 million next year, is surprisingly not expected to retire this offseason. Filming and producing virtual reality porn is apparently hard. The Amazing Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield, with the help of RuPaul’s Drag Race, came out as gay “just without the physical act.”

Thursday 07.6.17

Basketball prodigies Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball nabbed the cover of SLAM Magazine without father LaVar, who, not to be forgotten, wrote the cover story. Much like O.J. Simpson’s search for the real killer, President Donald Trump, seven months later, still hasn’t found the real hackers of the Democratic National Committee. Meanwhile, while speaking in Europe, the president pivoted between doubting Russia was involved in the 2016 election and blaming former President Barack Obama for not doing enough to stop Russia from meddling. Sports Illustrated found at least 40 people named after NBA Hall of Famer Shaquillle O’Neal — and two of them have younger brothers named Kobe. A female Capitol Hill reporter was barred from the House chamber because she was wearing a sleeveless dress. Gov. Paul LePage (R-Maine), best known for accusing “D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty” of selling drugs and impregnating white women in his state, told a local radio station that he makes up stories so the news media will “write these stupid stories because they are just so stupid, it’s awful”; LePage added that “the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.” USA Today celebrated National Fried Chicken Day by tweeting out a GIF of actress Octavia Spencer in a scene from The Help; the tweet was later deleted. U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who apparently fell asleep during the first day of Econ 101, lectured reporters at a coal plant: “Here’s a little economics lesson: supply and demand. You put the supply out there and the demand will follow.” The Cleveland Cavaliers, almost a week into NBA free agency and still without a general manager, lowballed general manager candidate Chauncey Billups by almost $2 million a year before the former NBA guard removed himself from consideration for the job on Monday. Nineteen-year Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki, still not about his paper, will sign a two-year, $10 million deal to remain in the Lone Star State. Four Brazilian soccer players were kicked off their team after video of one of the players masturbating two others was released online; club president Gilmar Rosso said, “If they want to get drunk, [be] gay or not, that’s their business.” The famous “Boomshakalaka” play-by-play call from 1990s video game NBA Jam was a misquote of Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want To Take You Higher.”

Friday 07.7.17

Blue Ivy Carter, the daughter of JAY-Z, freestyled on her father’s new album, at one point rapping, “Boom shakalaka, boom shakalaka,” even though NBA Jam debuted 19 years before she was born. The Washington Nationals-Atlanta Braves rain-delayed-despite-little-rain game ended at 1:20 a.m. EST; fans at National Park were rewarded with free soda, ice cream, water, a transit system that shut down an hour into the game — and a 5-2 Nationals loss. A U.S. Mint employee was placed on administrative leave after leaving a noose made out of the rope used to seal coin bags on the chair of an African-American colleague. Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr., son of five-time All-Star Tim Hardaway Sr., received a $71 million offer sheet from the New York Knicks; the elder Hardaway made just $47.1 million in his entire 14-year career. At the book party for conservative author Milo Yiannopoulos, chants of “F— CNN” broke out while little people in yarmulkes dressed as conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, who is Jewish, danced among the partygoers. All but settling the matter, the Russian foreign minister said Trump accepted Vladimir Putin’s “assurances that Russia didn’t meddle in the U.S. election.” A phallic-shaped rock formation in Norway that was intentionally damaged last month has been properly restored. Rob Kardashian, who posted nude photographs of his ex-fiancée Blac Chyna earlier in the week, was served with notice of a restraining order. Twenty-four-year-old rapper 21 Savage, who is dating 33-year-old model Amber Rose, said one of the benefits of dating older women is she makes him do things he doesn’t normally do, like “take vitamins and drink water.” Former college basketball coach Bobby Knight, who somehow wandered into the offices of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency back in 2015, was accused of groping four employees of the spy agency. Gonorrhea is becoming harder to treat with antibiotics. LaVar Ball shot back at Joel Embiid, saying that people who use cuss words like the 76ers center “don’t have no intellect”; Ball added that he had “three words for him: Can’t. Play. At. All,” which is actually four words.

Lifesaving advice from a black woman held at gunpoint by police Comply, survive and complain later because panicky cops don’t know how to de-escalate situations

It’s still hard for me to believe that last month I almost became a hashtag — another black person gunned down by a panicky cop.

I don’t have a criminal record.

I shop at Trader Joe’s.

I’m college-educated.

I’m a woman.

As I stared at the officer nervously pointing his gun at me, I realized immediately what he saw: a black person who had no business being in his neighbor’s driveway.

Wait, let me take you back to the beginning:

On April 28, I bought a 2005 Isuzu Ascender from a woman in Jefferson City, Tennessee. I was on my way home to Charlotte, North Carolina, from Nashville, Tennessee, and I found the SUV on Craigslist. I had been searching for the perfect SUV for more than a month. This had a female owner who followed the maintenance schedule, relatively low miles, leather interior, tow package, roof rack and even a sunroof. The Ascender was the one. I bought it on the spot.

I left with both sets of keys, the title and a bill of sale, which she signed. Over the next couple of days, we talked a couple of times as I confirmed my pickup date of May 3. That’s how I found myself at the end of her son-in-law’s gun. I drove a rental car to Morristown, Tennessee, and took an unmarked taxi to the woman’s house about 3 p.m. I talked to her the day before. The Ascender was parked in the same spot in her driveway as it was the previous week when I purchased it. Her newer Toyota 4Runner was parked beside it.

The cab dropped me off and sped away. We’d gotten lost along the way, and he was irritated. I was tired but excited. The sun was shining, and the area around me was beautiful with lush trees and rolling hills. I soaked in the scenery.

I retrieved my North Carolina license plate and a small screwdriver from my duffel bag. As I screwed in the plate, I heard a voice behind me: “I’m an off-duty Knoxville police officer.” Something told me to stand up slowly with my hands up. I turned, facing the direction of the voice. He’s pointing his gun at me. My heart races. I look around. There is no one else outside. My mind is racing. I chide myself for not giving the address to anyone. No one knows where I am. I lament not answering the phone a minute ago when it rang. I am completely alone. My phone is next to my bag. I don’t think I should move.

It’s so quiet. Philando Castile flashes through my mind. I think about how cops are killing black people and getting away with it. I bought the SUV last Friday, I tell him, being mindful not to raise my voice. He doesn’t lower his gun. He tells me he is the seller’s son-in-law, and he lives across the street. He saw me get out of a car that sped away. It was a taxi, I explain. He’s incredulous. The registration and bill of sale are in my duffel bag. I tell him the keys are in my pocket. He tells me not to move. He orders me to put down the small screwdriver that I’m sweatily holding in the air. I ask if I can lower my hands. He says yes. Even though, to this point, he’s still pointing his gun at me as he talks to the 911 dispatcher.

He tells the dispatcher that I’m trying to steal his mother-in-law’s SUV. He gives her the tag number. The dispatcher tells him that the tag matches the truck. He, apparently, doesn’t hear her because he keeps pointing the gun at me. He finishes the call and holsters his gun. I exhale and lean against the truck. He tells me to sit on the step beside the house. Again, I invite him to check the registration in my bag. I share various details about his mother-in-law. He tells me he knew she was selling the car, but she hadn’t told him she’d sold it.

Seven minutes later, a Jefferson County sheriff’s deputy arrives. The cop tells his side of the story. I tell the deputy I have the registration in my bag. He doesn’t check it, nor did he run the plates. I offer him the signed bill of sale and keys. Not good enough. He wants to talk to the woman who sold me the car. She wasn’t home and wasn’t answering her cell.

We’ve been over this already. Again, I tell the deputy that the registration is in my bag, and it matches the VIN on the car. Or that he can simply run the plates. He asks for the title. I don’t have the title — I have the registration. He asks if I have the phone number of the woman who sold me the car. I read to him from my phone. He compares it to the number on the bill of sale. It matches. I’m wondering, to myself, what that exercise just proved — but I remain calm.

He still doesn’t run the plate. Since I was allowed to pick up my phone, I text a friend: “Cops here. They don’t believe I bought the car. Gonna call. Just stay on the line …” Finally, the off-duty cop gets his wife on the phone. She confirms the car was sold to someone in North Carolina. They let me go with a weak apology, and the typical, “There’ve been a lot of burglaries in the area.”

Former Observer writer Tonya Jameson shows how she was screwing her new license plate into her new Isuzu SUV purchased in Jefferson City TN., shown here, before having a gun pulled on her by a Knoxville Police Department officer. “It’s been a week since I almost became a hashtag – another unarmed Black person shot by a cop,” she wrote.

Diedra Laird/Charlotte Observer

Initially, I was just glad to be alive — but after blogging about it, I realized that wasn’t enough. It wasn’t just about me — this was an opportunity to prevent the next Philando Castile. I filed a complaint with the Knoxville Police Department’s Internal Affairs Unit against Officer Matthew Janish, the off-duty cop who drew his gun on me. I complain to Jefferson County Sheriff G.W. “Bud” McCoig about how his deputy handled the call.

McCoig said his deputy acted appropriately despite not running my tag or looking at the registration. McCoig also said his deputy denied that I told him I had the registration. Since the deputy only stayed for 11 minutes, McCoig didn’t think it was a big deal. I explain to McCoig that after one cop pulls a gun on you, and then the other officer won’t follow common sense and run the plate, but instead interrogates you, 11 minutes is an eternity. I told him his officer created an even more threatening encounter for me. McCoig was unsympathetic and concluded the conversation with, “I’m glad everything worked out, and as far as I’m concerned this is closed.”

Knoxville Police were a little more sympathetic. Chief David Rausch actually came to Charlotte a little more than a month later to tell me the internal affairs investigation concluded that officer Janish’s actions were “lawful and proper.”

The system is designed to exonerate police officers, not provide justice for their victims, especially black ones. He said that he felt it was important to tell me results in person and answer any questions that I might have.

I told him that I wasn’t surprised by their findings, but I was disappointed. The system is designed to exonerate police officers, not provide justice for their victims, especially black ones. My incident, however, gives me new insight into just how much the law values police lives over the citizens they are supposed to protect.

Chief Rausch revealed that Janish thought I was a teenage boy. Considering that I have a low-fade haircut and was wearing khaki-style shorts and a “Free Press” T-shirt, I wasn’t surprised. I tell the chief that although I am not a teenage boy, his officer shouldn’t assume that all teenage boys are criminals.

The chief told me when doing these types of investigations, it is essential to understand an officer’s mindset to determine the facts. Here are the facts that Janish focused on: unmarked, speeding cab; black person; duffel bag; and the license plate. Here are facts he ignored: He knew his mother-in-law was selling the SUV, it was broad daylight, and I knew her first name but not her last. I offered to show him the keys, registration and bill of sale signed by her.

Those are the actual facts. Janish’s mindset was the scenario he created in his head.

He saw a black person, supposedly a teenage boy, and assumed the worst: that I was either a burglar or a car thief. His fears weren’t facts.

The moment I arrived on that street I became a suspect, and under the law, it seemed that Janish became a victim. He could have stayed at his house, called 911 and waited for sheriff’s deputies to arrive. Instead, he grabbed his weapon and came outside to confront me.

Every action I took was suspicious in his mind. Looking to the left and right twice was deemed suspicious. Not knocking on the door was also suspicious, but I suspect knocking would’ve been suspicious, too.

Reading the investigation case file, Janish likely would have been within his legal rights to shoot me. I was amazed at the scenario he created about the taxi — it was a lookout vehicle lurking nearby.

In a statement supporting the investigation’s findings, Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero talked about the extensive training officers receive in appropriate use of force and de-escalation.

Is the fact that Janish didn’t shoot me considered de-escalation? Why is pointing a weapon at a law-abiding citizen considered an appropriate use of force? Why doesn’t police training include exercising common sense?

Who steals a car by putting a license plate on it first? Who steals a 12-year-old Isuzu Ascender instead of the newer Toyota 4Runner parked beside it? What car thief offers the amount of proof that I did?

I understand Janish’s vantage point, that the situation looked strange from his house. He was well within his right to investigate; any good neighbor would do that. But this situation warranted some common-sense questions: “Who are you?” “What are you doing?” The inquiry should come first, instead of a gun. That’s de-escalation.

During his Charlotte visit, Rausch talked about lessons learned. I didn’t overreact. I didn’t get angry. I survived.

My behavior is how everyone should act in those situations: comply, survive and complain later. I told him it’s not natural to be accused of doing something wrong and not prove your innocence. I wanted to show the keys, the vehicle registration and the bill of sale. I fought every impulse to do anything that would make him feel more threatened.

I don’t have de-escalation training. I’m the one being held at gunpoint. I’m the one thinking my life could end if he panics. Yet, I’m the one who must remain calm. The legal system is asking untrained civilians to de-escalate panicky cops.

What about our lives? We’re tired of becoming hashtags. We’re the ones the police are supposed to protect. Our lives matter, too.

Tonya Jameson is a former Charlotte Observer reporter and columnist who now manages social media accounts for companies.

Daily Dose: 7/5/17 On July Fourth America, we were reminded of who we really are

Hope everyone’s holiday went well. I spent it listening to Luther Vandross records with a buddy of mine, which was an extremely fulfilling experience. It might be a Quiet Storm kind of summer until the weather gets colder.

If you want to know why being black in this country is tough, let me explain. It’s not only that when we are killed by police officers for no reason, those officers often don’t get fired, and walk free. But afterward, the government will spit on our graves, too. Take for example the case of Philando Castile, in which a man was shot and killed in front of his girlfriend and her daughter, ostensibly because the officer was just plain afraid of black people. He went free. Now, the judge has written a letter of support to the jurors who let him off. What a country.

Speaking of the United States, Tuesday was July Fourth. So, as a result, NPR decided to tweet out, over the course of the day, the words of the Declaration of Independence, the document that everyone is actually celebrating when it comes to busting off fireworks and shoveling hot dogs down their gullets. Well, as it turns out, some people have no idea what that document actually says, because people don’t pay attention to history. Shocker. The way this played out over the day would have been funny, if not so painful to watch.

Sticking with our theme, let’s go to Florida. All across the South, and plenty of other places for that matter, there are all sorts of places and streets with names of Confederate officials. We won’t get into an argument about heritage versus hate, because there isn’t one. But in one town, city administrators have now decided that they aren’t going to take a poll from the public on the matter before they vote to remove street names from the Old South. We’ll see how it goes.

There are few things more American than eating contests. Only in this country do people line up to watch other humans shovel as much food into their mouths as quickly as possible — and they put it on television. This year was no different on Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York. Personally, I can’t watch. They make me barf just thinking about it. But Joey Chestnut is the master of his domain and has now won 10 titles. They’re going to have to start thinking about renaming the contest after him. Here’s a recap of the day.

Free Food

Coffee Break: When you shut down a public beach, then show up there with your family, you can expect people to mock you. That’s exactly what went down in New Jersey with Gov. Chris Christie. The pictures of him sitting on an abandoned beach are hilarious. Then, someone made a sand sculpture of it. God bless America.

Snack Time: What happens when you try to kill wasps and you have no idea what you’re doing? Well, of course, you accidentally blow up your garage … with fireworks.

Dessert: Behold one of our greatest national treasures. Chance the Rapper.

The words ‘I thought my life was in danger’ allow police to kill black people without fear of reprisal When the police officer assumes the power of the slave master

A slave master, four centuries ago, could avoid legal sanction for using lethal force against his enslaved property by simply saying the latter opposed correction. “I was disciplining my slave, who then resisted.” Utter those magic words and the state would level no punishment if the master committed homicide. A police officer, now, can avoid legal sanction for using lethal force against a person by simply saying the latter made the officer fear for his or her life. “I stopped someone on the street, and I then thought my life was in danger.” Utter those magic words and the state will level no punishment if the officer commits homicide.

Black folk, always the victim in the first context, also bear the brunt of these legal realities in the second. Thus, because of these magic words, black people living today, during police encounters, have the same right to life as did a stolen African in the 17th century.

My mind conceived this historical analogy while stewing in the misery produced by the acquittal of St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who snatched away the life of Philando Castile, a black man. During a traffic stop for a busted taillight, Castile, after informing Yanez he had a firearm, reached for his identification per Yanez’s request. Yanez told him not to pull out his firearm. Castile replied, “I’m not pulling it out.” Yanez next fired his gun seven times into the white 1997 Oldsmobile, killing Castile, as his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter sat inches away as a man they loved breathed his final breaths while bathing in his own blood.

Yanez, on the witness stand during his trial, uttered those magic words: “I was scared to death. I thought I was going to die. … I had no other choice.” He, therefore, walked out of Ramsey County courthouse a free man, a jury acquitting him of second-degree manslaughter and other lesser offenses. Castile’s family, though, left shedding tears, a melancholic scene that recent events have forced to replay on an endless loop, most recently when former Milwaukee officer Dominique Heaggan-Brown was acquitted for killing Sylville Smith, despite the incident being filmed.

Much of the outcry about these verdicts has focused on how they reveal that racial oppression molests every aspect of our criminal justice apparatus, how the system operates as intended when it never punishes cops who kill black folk. Although this conversation must hurtle onward, we must also situate these fatal occurrences in historical context, dramatizing how harrowing the black plight continues to be. We achieve this by reckoning with a brutal truth — during police encounters, black folk have as much agency over whether they will ever lay eyes on their loved ones again as their enslaved ancestors did when being punished by their masters.

The Virginia Colony, in 1669, enacted a statute permitting the killing of an enslaved person who resisted an owner’s corrective punishment. The reasoning behind the statute appalls current sensibilities: “[I]t cannot be presumed that propensed malice,” the statute stated, “should induce any man to destroy his own estate.” Since an owner, in other words, would not lay waste to his own property because of evil intentions, the state should presume the owner acted properly when such killings occurred. Other colonies, because Virginia was the first and most influential colony, followed suit, passing similar laws. This meant something horrifying for the enslaved throughout colonial America — the law allowed an owner to kill them if the owner’s story fit a specified narrative.

So, too, can police officers kill when their stories fit a specified narrative, the I-feared-for-my-life narrative. Officers can use deadly force when reasonably believing their lives are in peril. The Supreme Court wrote, in Graham v. Connor, the situation “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.” Because prosecutors and jurors presume officers behave properly, a presumption that slave owners enjoyed too, whether they get charged or convicted turns more on their ability to recount a convincing tale than on the surrounding facts.

American society transmits explicit and implicit messages about black people’s inherent dangerousness, making us susceptible to believing a black person posed a threat in most any scenario. Cops understand that should an ordeal with a black person turn deadly, their ability to utter the magic words inoculates them from punishment, a scary fact that black folk understand all too well.

The police officer, like the slave master before him, has been allowed by the state to dispense summary justice. If white people feared, like black people do, that their lives were subject to the decision-making of an easily frightened or malicious officer, changes would surely be instituted. To prevent the next Philando Castile or Sylville Smith, black folk need allies willing to wield arms in the battle to strip the magic from words.

Daily Dose: 6/26/17 BET Awards provide many moments for the culture

Sunday night, settle down to the television, get on the Twitter box and go. That’s pretty much the routine when it comes to awards shows, and last night was no different. The BET Awards did not disappoint, but they did run way long.

Where do we begin? Los Angeles was popping with black star power Sunday night, and because of who it was there were also plenty of blunders that were pretty funny. I kept a running thread on Twitter about the various observations I had, but most importantly, it was a come up and a half for Leslie Jones. The comedian, who had an extremely tough year in terms of personal strife, was showing all the way out as the host and was definitely funny. If you root for black women to succeed, which you should, last night was a victory for us all.

The value of a black life seems to be ever-changing. In the case of Philando Castile, it’s apparently $3 million. That’s the amount that the family of the man murdered in front of his girlfriend and her child reached in a settlement with the city of St. Anthony Village, Minnesota. Reminder: The man who killed him while on duty was acquitted in his case. When you ask why people consider violence against black people to be state-sponsored, this is why. If you live there, your taxes are paying for him to be killed and also for the consequences.

Capitalism is a fickle beast. Because in theory, market forces in certain scenarios will help everyone out. But, unfortunately overall, the system doesn’t work unless poor people exist. So when you try to overcorrect for previous forms of mistreatment like low wages, if you go too far you blow up business models that were not created on that math. Instead of everyone just getting more money, people have to stop working. There’s concern right now that Seattle might have done exactly that.

John McEnroe is a hater. On top of that, he is apparently sexist. It’s 2017, and to sell a book he’s still going on with this notion that for any woman to be given her credit as an athlete, she must be compared with a man. That’s a) complete nonsense and b) COMPLETE NONSENSE. Serena Williams is the best tennis player he’s ever seen, and he’s just scared to say that out loud because it would rattle his whole raison d’etre. Instead, he throws out a number that she might be ranked if she were a man. Breaking: She’s not. And doesn’t need to be.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Look. I love Migos. This is not news. But Everyday Struggle has become a show that, for whatever reason, manages to make news. Between DJ Akademiks and Joe Budden, these two create viral moments that are either wildly embarrassing or extremely effective. You can take what you will from this Migos confrontation.

Snack Time: If you thought the Ball family empire was limited to just basketball and clothes, you’ve got another think coming. It looks like LaVar Ball could actually be close to inking something with the WWE, which is fantastic.

Dessert: Q-Tip put on for his fallen Queens homey, Prodigy, on Beats1. May he rest in peace.

Explaining Beyoncé’s public performance of pregnancy and motherhood Reclaiming a positive image for black women amid a history of degradation and slander

They’re here!

Finally, really and truly here — according to news reports.

By “they,” of course, we mean Beyoncé and Jay Z’s twins.

For months, we’ve been lapping up whatever dribbles of details we could find about Queen Bey and her pregnancy, dining on a steady diet of Instagram posts and public appearances as her belly kept growing with two more heirs to the Knowles-Carter empire. And true to form, Beyoncé took the opportunity to give us a spectacle laden with meaning.

Perhaps the most significant thing about Beyoncé’s decisions about how her pregnant body would be publicly displayed was her understanding that no one can define themselves by a series of negatives. Black womanhood and black motherhood are always performed in minute-by-minute assertions, and that doesn’t become any less true if you are married, or wealthy, or well-educated. Just ask Michelle Obama.

It’s not enough to say “We’re not welfare queens or breeding wenches or “subfeminine,’ ” to use Eldridge Cleaver’s word. Telling society what you are not is not the same as defining what you are, as evidenced by the efforts of black clubwomen in the early 20th century. Thanks to, as Mary Church Terrell wrote, “false accusations and malicious slanders circulated against them constantly, both by the press and by the direct descendants of those who in years past were responsible for the moral degradation of their female slaves,” black women learned to present themselves as largely asexual to counter prevailing images of themselves as wanton Jezebels. It’s a legacy that’s continued to affect how we see black women, into the 21st century, as we’ve learned that sexual respectability politicking is just as confining as stereotypes that defined black women as irredeemably lustful.

Rather than be pigeonholed, Beyoncé used her second pregnancy to position herself, and by extension black womanhood at large, as the center of life.

Of course it was all connected.

It turned out that the Feb. 1 Instagram announcement of twins and the library of maternity photos released on her website were a harbinger of what was to come at the Grammys less than two weeks later. A club flyer, if you will.

With her last two albums, it’s clear Beyoncé has become wedded to the idea of letting her work communicate in the aggregate. The whole speaks louder, more concretely, and more decisively than any one individual element. That doesn’t apply just to her music, or the music videos (Beyoncé) or cinematic offerings (Lemonade) paired with it. Beyoncé boasts an unparalleled skill in stretching her artistic statements into multipronged events, taking full advantage of the internet, her performances and even step-and-repeat photo ops to present a consistent narrative.

“I think she was giving us a different vision of what black children’s futures could be.”

Her Grammys performance was a continuation of what Beyoncé was already aiming to communicate with her pregnancy announcement, through a series of photographs that had been art-directed and contemplated quite deeply. Looking back, it now seems like the most visible chapter in a highly curated story: how Beyoncé was not only embracing pregnancy and motherhood, but providing new fodder for what it means.

While some rightfully detected traces of Peter Paul Rubens’ many works depicting the Madonna and child in Beyoncé’s explosion of florals, the kitschy, Sears portrait gallery nature of the photographs referenced something else: the provocative, radical appropriating element of a Kehinde Wiley portrait.

Wiley is known for painting black people in a style that references the old masters, elevating ordinary modern black people to the status of nobility by immortalizing them in the same mythmaking environs as lionized white historical figures. With her maternity photos, and at the Grammys, Beyoncé elected to do the same.

At first glance, Beyoncé’s decision to channel Wiley seemed incongruous. She’s not ordinary at all. This is a woman who is known not just as a mononym but as Queen Bey, and for a time King Bey.

Why install yourself like the subjects Wiley recruits off the street when you’re a woman with the power to turn a man into a “black Bill Gates”? Quite simply, Beyoncé was tapping into a pop cultural black populism. She took the subtext of Lemonade and made it plain with the speech she gave upon accepting the Grammy for best urban contemporary album. In it, she aligned herself with and understood herself to be a stand-in for all black women, especially American black women.

“We all experience pain and loss, and often we become inaudible,” she said. “My intention for the film and album was to create a body of work that would give a voice to our pain, our struggles, our darkness and our history. To confront issues that make us uncomfortable. … This is something I want for every child of every race, and I feel it’s vital that we learn from the past and recognize our tendencies to repeat our mistakes.”

Instagram Photo

Instagram Photo

This might have been surprising if you only paid glancing attention to Lemonade, and took it as Beyoncé giving a public middle finger to her husband for cheating on her with Becky with the good hair. But the gossip was a lure for a deeper message.

Remember, the Lemonade film included the Mothers of the Movement: Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr and Lezley McSpadden, better known as the mothers of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, respectively. And so, on the night when Beyoncé was recognized for her work, her decision to depict herself as the madonna, as a multitudinous, many-armed deity, and as the orisha Oshun, was a decision to offer herself as a vessel for black women’s self-love. It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—- is a Star.”

Three years ago, Beyoncé opened the Grammys with a steamy performance of “Drunk in Love.” Seated on a French cafe chair, she writhed and vamped in fishnets and a black sheer leotard, exulting in the bliss of hot marital sexytimes, eventually joined by her husband. A British newspaper, Metro UK, responded with a headline spitting fire and judgment: “ ‘Whore’ Beyoncé angers parents with raunchy act.”

For Beyoncé to then align herself, and by proxy, black women as a whole, with the iconography of the madonna was significant. When you consider that she did so after releasing a self-titled visual album that was a frank celebration of sex, it’s explosive. Even on Beyoncé, released in 2013, the singer was toying with imagery of the Pietà, casting herself as Mary and a black man as the fallen Christ in the video for “Mine.”

Beyonce portraying “Mary” in the “Mine” video

As with just about everything she does publicly, Beyoncé takes basic ideas and remixes them to great effect to suit her own needs. So of course she did it with a public pregnancy, too. Beyoncé’s pregnancy was political because black women’s bodies are laden with politics, whether we want them to be or not. Such is the burden of history.

Government has long sought to define and characterize black motherhood for its own ends. There are the “greatest hits” we all know and detest, such as legally defining black women as unrapeable in service of a “capitalized womb,” or determining that babies born to enslaved women inherited the status of free or enslaved from their mothers. There’s the Moynihan report’s prescription that black women’s achievement needed to be impeded in service to black men, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan’s use of the mythical welfare queen as a scapegoat, and even former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s attempt to characterize the Affordable Care Act, with its provisions for free birth control and well woman exams, as a governmental “Uncle Sugar” enabling the actions of wanton, morally bankrupt women.

But attacks on black motherhood have also manifested in the form of attacks on their children, something that was visceral in Beyoncé’s inclusion of the Mothers of the Movement in Lemonade. Beyoncé communicated that there was no space between herself and these women. She is the mother of a black child, subject to the same dangers resulting from white fear and white supremacy. There’s no daylight between Beyoncé and, more recently, Diamond Reynolds, the woman whose partner, Philando Castile, was shot to death by a police officer during a traffic stop, in front of her young daughter, who was seated in the back of the car.

It was Beyoncé’s way of marrying the messages within Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and Boris Gardiner’s “Every N—– is a Star.

But while Lemonade, with its opening salvo of “Formation,” references modern attacks on black children and black motherhood, the fear black mothers harbor runs deeper than the past few years. It spans generations. Perhaps no such attack drives that point home like the gruesome 1918 lynching of Mary Turner and her unborn child in Brooks County, Georgia.

After a black man shot and killed a white plantation owner, a lynch mob murdered Turner’s husband as part of a rampage of terrorism and revenge. Turner, 21 years old and eight months pregnant, had the temerity to protest. Upon learning that Turner intended to seek legal recourse for her husband’s murder, the mob came for her.

According to The Mary Turner Project, a Georgia educational collective dedicated to preserving her memory, “ … at Folsom’s Bridge the mob tied Mary Turner by her ankles, hung her upside down from a tree, poured gasoline on her and burned off her clothes. One member of the mob then cut her stomach open and her unborn child dropped to the ground where it was reportedly stomped on and crushed by a member of the mob. Her body was then riddled with gunfire from the mob. Later that night she and her baby were buried ten feet away from where they were murdered. The makeshift grave was marked with only a ‘whiskey bottle’ with a ‘cigar’ stuffed in its neck.”

Simply terrorizing Turner was not enough. It wasn’t just that her husband was considered a threat — so was she, and the black child she surely would have imbued with a sense of justice and liberty had they lived.

Lemonade is partly about defiance and resilience. And arguably, there’s no greater show of defiance than making the decision to bring a black child into this world and shower it with love and pride and joy, knowing the hostility that awaits her or him.

The legacy of our society’s anxiety toward black female bodies are evident in the work of Beyoncé’s artistic predecessors. After Beyoncé’s Grammy performance, Vanessa Williams tweeted, “They never showed my pregnant belly when I sang my nominated “Save the Best for Last” — Oh how times have changed! Kudos Beyoncé!” The vision of a conservatively clothed, pregnant Williams was apparently too controversial for the Grammys in 1993, two years after Demi Moore appeared nude and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair.

In her 2003 memoir Chaka! Through the Fire, Khan revealed the angst of male record company executives who worried that her sex appeal would vanish because of a C-section scar cutting its way across her belly.

So what is there to do? How do you find a way to be celebratory instead of huddling in fear? Khan responded by continuing to perform in her trademark itty-bitty stagewear, exposed scar and all. If you’re Beyoncé, you bring the house down at the Grammys. If you’re Erykah Badu, you start ushering in black life.

While there are few public images of Badu pregnant with her children, Seven, Mars or Puma, she appeared in the September 2011 issue of People in a photograph that accompanied a story detailing her work as a doula — a service she provides for free to pregnant mothers, subsidized by her financial success as singer.

Badu appeared with her hair parted in the center. It flows in waves down her shoulders and over her breasts. She’s dressed in a loose-fitting white caftan, accessorized with a long, gold beaded necklace and rings of various sizes on both hands. In her arms, she’s cradling a nude black baby, Marley Jae Taylor, then 2 weeks old, whom she delivered. She’s standing in the middle of a Dallas field, surrounded by tall grass that appears to have parted for her. She called herself the “welcoming committee.”

The Grammys may have been the high point for audience numbers — it was more accessible on network television than Lemonade was on HBO — but Beyoncé’s pregnancy messaging apparatus continued to churn with her public appearances with daughter Blue Ivy and Jay Z at NBA games, when she and Blue Ivy showed up to the premiere of Beauty and the Beast or celebrated Mother’s Day dressed in the high-fashion equivalent of Mommy-and-Me togs.

Instagram Photo

All those images of black fertility and black motherhood rippled across the internet to reinforce the ideas first introduced with Lemonade — and then were reintroduced at the Grammys when Beyoncé deliberately lingered on a line from poet Warsan Shire about the “hips” that “crack” from giving birth.

Even the pink tuxedo Blue Ivy wore communicated a vision of black girl power. When her mother wants to convey messages about female power, she tends to revisit variations on menswear. She did it in the stagewear for her performance of “Love on Top” announcing her first pregnancy. It’s an element in the music videos for “Suga Mama,” “Upgrade You,” and “Haunted,” all of which feature Beyoncé playing with the idea of gender roles.

Blue Ivy Carter and Jay Z during The 59th GRAMMY Awards at STAPLES Center on February 12, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevin Mazur/WireImage

At the Grammys, Beyoncé, who endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president with a performance in which she and all of her backup dancers wore pantsuits, seemed to echo the most memorable notes of Clinton’s postelection concession speech: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world,” Clinton told the little girls of America on Nov. 9.

As she delivered an acceptance and concession speech of her own (if you choose to believe, as I do, that Beyoncé knew before the Grammys that she wouldn’t win Album of the Year), the singer had a similar message.

“It’s important to me to show images to my children that reflect their beauty so they can grow up in a world where they look in the mirror — first through their own families, as well as the news, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the White House and the Grammys — and see themselves and have no doubt that they’re beautiful, intelligent and capable,” she said, again becoming a megaphone for the desires of all black mothers.