New Video: “Police Make the Best Poets”

New video up via Button Poetry. This poem is in my book, which is available now.

This is a poem about dominant narratives and counter-narratives. To quote MPD150:

As the bodycam footage in the Thurman Blevins case is released (which we won’t share here, since enough people are sharing the footage via news networks and we don’t want to re-traumatize people), we can see the official narrative starting to take shape.

Our challenge is to not lose sight of the context around that narrative. Police, politicians, and media will almost always zoom in on the specific details of a given case; this is understandable (and of course, we can’t lose sight of the real human being and family at the center of this), but it’s also a tactic that keeps us from talking about the bigger picture.

The MPD150 report exists, in part, to provide some of that bigger picture and historical context. Explicit instances of police violence are part of a larger system of violence; it isn’t just about how individual officers act in individual moments; it’s about the larger system/culture that led to those moments in the first place. What relationships between the police and that neighborhood existed before that moment? What kinds of mindsets did the police enter into that moment with? What sorts of resources and alternatives are missing from the picture? These aren’t always easy questions, but they’re worth asking.

This is all also in the context of just the last couple years here in Minneapolis– from Thurman Blevins, to the ketamine scandal, to the Justine Ruszczyk lawsuit, to the occupation of the 4th precinct after the killing of Jamar Clark, to debates about mayoral vs. city council oversight, to ongoing, deeper questions about punishment vs. prevention and what we choose to invest in. Aside from the MPD150 report linked to above and this FAQs on police abolition, I’d also recommend this overview by Unicorn Riot. Knowing what’s happening is a necessary first step.

For people interested, MPD150 is organizing a big interactive exhibit this fall, in collaboration with some amazing artists, to bring the report to life. If you’d like to support that, you can donate here. Look out for more details on that soon. Full text of the poem:


Note the creative phrasing, the novel juxtaposition of words: the officer discharged his weapon, striking the individual. Note how the poem is so well-constructed, the newspapers print it as-is.

Note how they call it a perfect storm of human error; poetry is weather, after all, not climate. Note this attention to detail: height, weight, what size pants he wore, the specific model of toy gun. Poetry is, after all, about zooming in on these concrete particulars. Note how precise they are with their cuts: history, context, connections, trends— they focus only on what is necessary— so every time we hear the poem, it feels fresh again.

Note their mastery of repetition. Note how they show all the things they cannot tell.