The never-ending trauma of police shootings

(CNN)For this week, we talk about the police shootings of Trayford Pellerin and Jacob Blake, revisit Aaliyah's music and reimagine friendship. Plus, recommendations: the new HBO documentary "Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn" and Audre Lorde's 1984 essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House."

This week's culture conversation: The never-ending trauma of police shootings

Brandon: I'm tired. And sad. And angry. I don't know how else to feel, given the news this week about the police shootings of Trayford Pellerin and Jacob Blake.
Leah: I've been in a very similar place. And also: so, so frustrated. Sure, there are Black Lives Matter murals on streets, and people are reading Ibram X. Kendi's "How to Be an Antiracist." But nothing has changed. Absolutely nothing. I watched Blake's family's press conference earlier this week, and they spoke about how they feel numb and angry. I started crying.
    B: I had the same reaction when I listened to Robert Horry, a former NBA player, talk about the shooting of Blake -- about how the situation feels overwhelming.
    I think that the situation feels overwhelming because, as you said, it reveals that nothing has changed. Or at least, the things that need to change haven't changed.
    After the police killing of George Floyd in May, racial justice activists wanted to have a rigorous conversation about defunding the police. But for the most part, what they got were gestures of solidarity. Which are important for dramatizing injustice, but the work can't stop there.
    Similar tensions are playing out in the NBA and WNBA, right?
    L: YES. League higher-ups seemed content with things like refashioning jerseys and painting BLM on courts. But, really, the players -- who are mostly Black -- are the ones who forced a stop-in-play in an effort to draw more serious attention to what's going on off the court and perhaps put pressure on the right places.
    It's just a metaphor for America writ large. The people in power try to soothe the governed with symbols and don't really consider how to make meaningful change.
    B: The past week should be a wake-up call, I think. Many people have moved on from talking about police violence. But the violence hasn't gone anywhere.
    What supporters of defunding the police have long known is that Black Americans can't be free in a country where their lives are still so deeply defined by police brutality.
    Activists' demands have gone unanswered. And here we are today.

    Reflection: Remembering Aaliyah

    Why we're excited: This week, Aaliyah's estate announced that the late R&B singer's music will arrive on streaming platforms in the "near future."
    (It's a long, complicated story. Most of Aaliyah's music has never legally appeared online. You can read about the saga here.)
    Aaliyah wasn't only a fashion icon: the crop tops paired with baggy jeans, the sunglasses, the hair draped over part of her face. She was also one of the most influential artists ever, having helped to redefine contemporary R&B with her friends and collaborators, Missy Elliott and Timbaland.
    At a time when Black life feels so grim, this bit of good news is small but also big.

    Recommended for your eyes and ears

    Brandon recommends: 'Yusuf Hawkins: Storm Over Brooklyn'
    As I watched the new HBO documentary "Storm Over Brooklyn," about a Black teenager named Yusuf Hawkins who 30 years ago this month was fatally shot in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, after a group of White youths surrounded him, I thought about James Baldwin.
    In particular, I thought about when the writer went to California in 1963 to film the documentary "Take This Hammer," which aims to reveal "the real situation of Negroes in (San Francisco), as opposed to the image San Francisco would like to present."
    "There is no moral distance, which is to say no distance, between the facts of life in San Francisco and the facts of life in Birmingham," Baldwin says, referring to racism not just in the Deep South but also in progressive bastions. "Someone's got to tell it like it is."
    Directed by Muta'Ali Muhammad, "Storm Over Brooklyn" has a similar ambition. It, too, is interested in telling it like it is -- in pulling back the veil on a part of the country that we too often overlook when we talk about racial horror.
    On August 23, 1989, 16-year-old Hawkins and a few of his friends traveled from East New York to Bensonhurst to look at a used car for sale. But when they arrived in the neighborhood, a White mob, allegedly mistaking Hawkins and his friends for a different group of Black men (one of whom was thought to be dating a White girl), circled them. Hawkins was shot dead.
    Racial panic had claimed another Black life -- but not in a place we usually associate with this kind of brutality.
    The power of "Storm Over Brooklyn" is that it shows in heartrending fashion how no one city or region has a monopoly on anti-Black violence. As America grapples once again with widespread racial terror, the film's message couldn't be timelier -- or, rather, more horrifyingly timeless.
    Leah recommends: 'The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House' by Audre Lorde
    Audre Lorde's essay, "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" was written more than 35 years ago, but it feels like an essay of this moment.
    In it, Lorde specifically unpacks feminist academia and its tendency to leave out women of color and non-heterosexual women. And yet, this part of her essay stood out to me today:
    "What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy?" she questions. "It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable."
    When I think about the events of the past week, I'm struck by how relevant her words are in 2020. Many people have celebrated "narrow parameters of change," as Brandon and I discussed -- blanket, performative gestures over systemic overhaul.
    Lorde's declaration, it seems, foresaw what's happening today. It's right in the title: The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. The only choice, she argues, is to start anew.
    This thinking mirrors the argument many racial justice activists are making today, especially after two more police shootings of Black people. Regardless of where you stand on the overarching issue, Lorde's essay is helpful for contextualizing and understanding the events unfolding now.
    If nothing else, they point to a potentially hard-to-swallow truth -- that maybe these "narrow parameters of change" are the only changes the current systems will offer.

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