This poem was performed at Injustice Watch’s #SpreadTheWord poetry event on April 22. Artists were asked to write a poem inspired by one of Injustice Watch’s stories. This piece was inspired by Emily Hoerner’s 2019 story, Discipline disparities and racial tension persists in St. Louis Metro Police.
Like any good man, a black cop walks into my coffee shop
and asks for the strongest coffee we have
and assures me he wants it black.
Our cold brew and our drip have the same amount of caffeine.
We are both equally nervous and relaxed
because neither of us need to be here,
but here we are,
making a living and trying to keep the neighborhood happy.
But today on my commute, a regular sees me in my hoodie
and ducks their head out of eye contact
and off the sidewalk
and into the street, just to get around me.
I know how weird it was for me to end up here.
As for this pig, I don’t know what winding way he took to get here.
if it was his encounters with police that made him want to be one
or if he wants to be one because he never had any.
I guess you never know
how any given ghost keeps the body they were born with.
I peel back my defense mechanisms
like I’m taking off a bulletproof vest
and crack a joke for the sake of brotherhood
and he laughs loud enough to make the whole room silent
And like any good man, the cop tells me to bump his fist
with a smile shot wide open.
His eyes are an arresting kind of easy.
The sort of hazel that keeps a family
feeling safe enough to sleep at night.
I can’t tell if I should second guess his intentions
the way I second guessed my life the last time
I was this close to a police badge.
I expect the tendrils of a taser
to rip through his knuckles
and somehow, his fist hasn’t broken me yet.
I don’t know if this is his job or his empathy.
With the possibility of both,
I know it’s a fallacy to believe in a good cop,
but I’ve seen what I’ll do to put food on the table,
and though an enemy is an enemy,
I can empathize with $75,000 a year and federal benefits.
The law of a fist bump is to never leave the homies hanging
and here we are:
a black cop, a black boy, and a history.
Our eyes deadlocked with nothing but walls between us
And like any good man,
I clench my palm, begging to get a grip
on a bit of trust somewhere and try to meet him halfway.
For half of the moment, our knuckles fall in
to eachother like a puzzle and for the other,
every fibre of muscle in our arms relax
and we are here.
Like any good man, I don’t believe in a good cop.
I don’t believe he smiles the same way I do.
I don’t believe in the diversity quotas that got him this job.
I don’t believe in policing.
I don’t believe I’m alive, still.
I do believe any day a nigga’s still breathing free
is a good one.
I’ve seen what their kind does on a bad day.
I trust no one who kills their own kind for a living.
If I don’t give him a good day, he might Miranda Rights
the day away from a kid up the block,
and how is that for security?
I know a law when it looks me in the eye.
I’ve had too many niggas I wish I hugged one more time
to let a coffee get in the way of maybe never feeling that again.
His laugh sounds like he stole it
right out the throat of a kid
that looks just like him
and I know this is all a cop is:
a government’s chokehold on it’s people,
translated into fear.
Davon Clark is a Philadelphia-raised artist based in Chicago that uses investigative journalism practices in his camerawork and poetry. His work looks to fill in the gaps left behind in coverage of the worlds that he lives in and peripheral to. He likes flowers and the little things in life. You can find out what he does and how he does it at www.daybydavon.com.