from Hanif Abdurraqib's "All the TV Shows Are About Cops"

...I live in the United States of Kyle Rittenhouse.

from Hanif Abdurraqib's "All the TV Shows Are About Cops"

You have to sit with the words sometimes.

I mean, I do this a lot. Pages of ink spilled on sentences and fragments of sentences. Still, I must remember to stop and be seated. Not fidget, not check the phone, not get up and make tea. Sit.

Then look. Looking, mouthing the words to myself as if I've never seen them before. Words like these:

I believe in someone placing a loaded gun

on a metal table between me and the door.

who gets to be god then? would god be the bullet

or the table or the door.

(from "All the TV Shows Are About Cops," by Hanif Abdurraqib)

It's almost unbelievable. Out of an action movie. Where the cops have to stop a murderous drug lord or an international terrorist. "A loaded gun / on a metal table between me and the door." But I must believe it, as I live in the United States of Kyle Rittenhouse. Here's a story from Jim Crow Mississippi, not too long ago:

Built at the turn of the century, Parchman was supposed to be a progressive and reformist response to the problem of “Negro crime.” In fact it was the gulag of Mississippi, an object of terror to African Americans in the Delta. In the early years of the 20th century, Mississippi Governor James K. Vardaman used to amuse himself by releasing black convicts into the surrounding wilderness and hunting them down with bloodhounds. “Throughout the American South,” writes David M. Oshinsky in his book Worse Than Slavery, “Parchman Farm is synonymous with punishment and brutality, as well it should be … Parchman is the quintessential penal farm, the closest thing to slavery that survived the Civil War.”

(from Ta-Nehisi Coates, "The Case for Reparations")

I live in a country which allowed a Governor to hunt down human beings for sport and didn't bother to seriously make amends. Here's a much more recent example of an abuse of power, that of the Chicago Police Department's "black sites:"

“Homan Square is definitely an unusual place,” Church told the Guardian on Friday. “It brings to mind the interrogation facilities they use in the Middle East. The CIA calls them black sites. It’s a domestic black site. When you go in, no one knows what’s happened to you.”

(from Spencer Ackerman in The Guardian, 2/24/15)

So yeah. It's crazy to believe someone would put a gun on a table, daring someone else to make a move, to try homicide or suicide. It's crazy to believe an entire system could be built around an attitude which thinks that shit strength. That if people didn't act like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon they couldn't be heroes. But yeah, that's where I live. A childish fantasy about who is good and bad dictates everything, including the most brutal mores.


Hanif goes right to "god," and honestly, who wouldn't. Earlier in his poem he talks about a flashlight shining brightly in his eyes, searching his car. I can't imagine being shot dead if the slightest thing gives someone an excuse. "god" is one of the few words combining the finality of an encounter, the fantasy of righteous violence, and the happenstance of the whole thing. How it might not have happened, not ever, but the world answers to a divine will, not ours or anyone else's.

One day, hopefully, no one will understand why armed agents of the state were allowed to body slam children in schools or fire rubber bullets into crowds with no punishment whatsoever. To explain to the people of that future what occurred in our time, we're going to need more ideas than "capitalism" or "overprotecting property." This has always been about who gets to play god. Whoever tried to conquer the New World. Maybe the Puritans, definitely those who claimed other human beings as property, maybe some other group entirely.

"who gets to be god then? would god be the bullet / or the table or the door." I remember a brilliant woman who firmly believed the wrong side won the US Civil War. She read Christian novelists who were quite thoughtful, explaining how faith and doubt interwove in a truly blessed, gracious life. I know she didn't think for a second about drone bombs striking remote villages. Whether the people in those villages could also be blessed or gracious. Whether they had the right to love God or be loved by Him.

"would god be the bullet / or the table or the door." I get why other countries, other cultures have hospitality. There, you don't turn away a guest. You've got to learn to look people in the face and respect them. Other countries and cultures are also racist and murderous and terrible, of course. Still, I'm surrounded by an incredible level of fevered inhumanity. People want to feel strong. They really, desperately want to abuse those they declare unrighteous. So there they are, reducing themselves to the violence of the bullet, the barrenness of the table, the reinforcement of the door. Congratulations on becoming god, the means of destruction and the destruction itself. One day, there will be creation, but I am old enough to know I will not be here to see it.