Updated: Oct 14, 2019
Boots Riley, writer/director of “Sorry To Bother You” recently had some political criticism of Spike Lee’s film “Black Klansmen.” His criticism centered on Lee’s portrayal of the police, and the actual history of the main character. While I saw “Black Klansman,”, and think more people should see it, I agree with Mr. Riley. This was also my biggest complaint after seeing the film. While Lee’s film does a great job of highlighting the beautiful revolutionary passion of Brothers and Sisters in the movement of the ‘70’s, and shows us what we lost through infiltration, subversion, and allowing ourselves as Blacks and as Workers to distracted with glitz, glam, and sports - while living lives of increasing desperation in a system designed to humiliate and destroy us - the film also falls into the “One Bad Apple” theory of institutional racism, and leaves portions of the lead character’s actual, disreputable story unreported. The idea that there is only that One Racist Cop who all the other cops secretly hate contradicts the reality we experience every day. It is an old meme in film, and it has always been false, and only serves in maintaining the idea that the police, as they are, are part of the solution, that purged of these few Bad apples the system will deliver the equal justice we are all promised. The truth seems to be that police fall into three categories: Good: honest fair-minded police officers ( Good Cops - a small percentage), varying degrees of power-mad psychopaths: (Killer/Rapist Cops- a larger percentage,) and the vast majority who know who witness the Killer/Rapist Cops commit awful crimes, know that they are brutalizing civilians, and yet do nothing to stop them. These are what I call Bad Cops, not because they are themselves brutalizing anyone, but because they are tacitly condoning the breaking of laws they are sworn to uphold, and are therefore bad at their jobs. They are Bad Cops because they falsify reports, give false evidence and alibis, lie in court because they think it’s more important to protect their criminal partner then the public. If a barista at Starbucks didn’t report that her shift partner messed with someone’s order because the patron wasn’t White we would expect both of them to be fired. Why should Starbucks be held to a higher standard then the Police? (I had this same problem with “Three Billboards” by the way.) The problem isn’t that one officer, and modern policing isn’t the solution. The problem is a system that coddles psychopaths, promotes racists, gives medals to rapists, and defends looking the other way when crimes are committed in the name of loyalty, and because, ultimately this system trains its officers to always be on fearful defense against all working-class citizens and to see Blacks as ever-dangerous runaway slaves who must be decisively controlled or killed. So I think Lee missed on that one. However I still think everyone should see the film to reminds us about the Revolution, and for it’s portrayal of the unvarnished racism that is still such an influential part of America - from the hills of Colorado to halls of Congress. And, of course, to wherever the fervent, screaming, red-hat wearing supporters of the current occupier of the Oval Office gather.