This post relates three very different events: 1) Edmund Perry’s death in 1985; 2) Michael Jackson’s music video for “Bad”, directed by Martin Scorsese and scripted by Richard Price; 3) events in Cova da Moura (urban suburb in Portugal), February, 2015.
1) Edmund Perry was a black kid from Harlem, with a poor upbringing, who “had just graduated from one of the nation’s most prestigious prep schools” when he was shot after an attack to a white undercover policeman, on the night of 12th June 1985. The events made journalist Robert Sam Anson write a book called Best Intentions: The Education and Killing of Edmund Perry, published in 1987, which became a best-seller. Anson had a son in the same school Perry attended before his death. About the events the kid said “Couldn’t be true. Eddie was too smart for that. The cop musta’ just killed him.” In fact, the morning after, the headlines suggested that a young and bright black kid had been brutally shot by a white policeman.
Anson’s story begins as follows: “Wednesday, the twelfth of June, 1985, was not one of New York City’s better days. It had rained on and off that morning and afternoon, and all day long the heat – uncommon for that time of year – had been oppressive. By nightfall, the air was thick and soggy, as if a huge, wet blanket had descended on the city.” And continues: “On the Upper West Side, in Morningside Heights, one of those New Yorkers was going about his nightly business. His name was Lee Van Houten, and to those who saw him strolling through the shadows along Morningside Drive, his youth and his casual attire – sweatshirt, blue jeans, and tennis shoes – suggested a student heading back to a university dorm, or an intern on his way to a local hospital. In fact, Van Houten, whose baby face and curly hair made him seem even younger than his 24 years, was a plainclothes police officer. […] It was a chancy assignment for any officer, especially one with only two years on the force.“
Anson’s description is obviously an effort to humanize the police officer, giving him a name and a face, before anything else. He then goes on to describe Edmund and his brother attack on him, in such a way that it reads like Van Houten had no other option, but the discussion is far from over. “For a few days the editorialists, black and white, were indignant. The police were bitterly condemned, the young man proclaimed by journalists ‘a future Moses for his people” and ”a prized symbol of hope.’ Yet less than two weeks later a Manhattan grand jury refused to charge the police officer and described the killing as justifiable homicide – at which point, for many, moral outrage gave way to embarrassed silence and a gnawing perplexity. Moreover, Perry’s older brother, Jonah, then 19 years old and a sophomore at Cornell University, was indicted as an accomplice in the aborted mugging. The policeman’s record and testimony no doubt influenced the grand jury. He was young, well educated, anything but gun-happy, a decent person who obviously had been assaulted and beaten before he used his gun – and he was devastated by what had happened, what he had done, had felt he had to do, lest he be killed. Mr. Anson is interested in exploring Edmund Perry’s short life, and especially his education – the irony that someone who had already traveled so far would end up lying on a sidewalk so close to where he had grown up, a cop’s bullet in his belly.“
2) 1987: the year Anson’s book and Michael Jackson’s Bad record were published. I got to know the relation between these two events after watching Spike Lee’s documentary Bad 25. The making of the video for Bad is portrayed roughly between minutes 00:15 and 00:30. Scorsese, who was directing, invited Richard Price, who had written The Color of Money, to write the script “as a dramatic piece”. It was Price, who was friends with journalist Robert Sam Anson, who recalled the story about Edmund Perry and had the idea to base the video clip on it. The videos above comprise the short story created for Bad, which is iconic (some say legendary) for all the good but also also for bad reasons. Although Michael Jackson is still a huge influence on many levels, this video is THAT relevant because the events depicted keep repeating itself. It could be done today: the choreography is unbeatable, the director alive and kicking and the story unfortunately current. Even the clothes are in fashion.
first images from the detainees. Source.
3) Cova da Moura, Amadora, Portugal, circa 15km from Lisbon. Cova da Moura, a neighborhood inhabited (mostly) by a community of African heritage. Last Thursday, 5th, about noon, Bruno Lopes, 24, was beaten up and arrested by a group of police officers. I would like to say no one died because of this event, but it’s too soon to tell. It’s not uncommon for white policeman in Portugal to have disproportionate reactions to situations where black kids are involved. Several have been killed in the past 10 years by police officers whose guilt is never accessed: 16-03-2013, Rúben Marques, 18; 15-03-2010, Nuno Manaças “MC Snake”, 30; 13-02-2009, Tiago Correia, “Seedorf”, 20; 04-01-2009, Elson Sanchez “Kuko”, 14. And the list goes on.
But there are a couple of new facts this time and they might change the ending. Bruno was arrested and beaten because he laughed and spoke crioulo (an african dialect) while some cops were passing by. Soon after knowing about the events, Celso Lopes and some friends, went to the police station to ask about the situation and things escalated, rubber bullets were fired and Celso was hit. Celso is an investigator and part of a community project. Journalist Enric Vives-Rubio spoke to him and reports what some of the policemen were saying. Thins like: “Garbage and dogs belong on the floor”, or “You’re lucky the law doesn’t permit it, otherwise you’d all be executed” and so on and so forth. No one knows what will follow and being accustomed to this judicial system gives little hope. An internal investigation is in course, meanwhile the community is hungry and frustrated and a protest against police brutality will take place this Thursday in front of the parliament. A gathering that, most certainly, will oppose the people, those calling for civil rights, to the state, fronted by a police barrier. It’s crazy exhausting. We keep repeating the same mistakes and the results are the same. How hard is it to make a change?