FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hip-Hop Culture and the Growing Threat of Police Violence

by

Four days after this Christmas I found myself in the Cal Poly Pomona theater, waiting for the play Dreamscape to begin. Three days after Christmas in 1998, nineteen-year-old Tyesha Miller was shot to death by four police officers in Riverside, California. Dreamscape tells that story.

It starts with Otis Redding singing “White Christmas.” The pain and beauty in Redding’s voice and his regal, adult bearing set the tone for the seriousness of what’s to come. The stage set is just two folding chairs, back to back. In the front chair sits Rhaechyl Walker as Tyesha Miller. In the back chair sits John Merchant (aka Moufaahza), who plays one of the four cops, the 911 dispatcher, and the coroner.

The play is more than a recreation of that violent night. “What I wanted to explore is what goes through the mind of a nineteen-year-old black girl while she’s being shot to death by the police,” writer/director Rickerby Hinds told me. To that end, each of the twelve shots which riddled Miller’s body is described by the coroner in clinical detail. After each, Rhaechyl Walker takes over the stage, using dance and poetry and her sheer vibrancy to tell stories about Tyesha Miller’s life. She talks about her hair (don’t touch it!), her breasts, her tattoos, and how bad the bread is in barbecue restaurants.

Because the writing is so good (and often very funny) the audience gets pulled away from the death and blood of the story. But, inevitably, Walker sits back down in that chair and here comes another bullet, its path through her body mapped out with excruciating precision. The effect is emotionally shattering as we see Tyesha Miller as not simply another in a long line of victims but as a fully realized and unique person—sexy, upbeat, funny, silly, and smart. That is who we lost that night.

Moufaahza is not just a fine actor but also the Jimi Hendrix of beatboxers. He has incredible chops and is capable of mimicking anything, but above all he’s able to put together colors and feelings to clear the way for his thoughts and emotions to pour out. In Dreamscape, he uses his mouth to scratch like a DJ while also creating an orchestra of instruments both well-known and never previously imagined. Moufaahza does this while also incorporating the words of several characters and much of the action that took place on that night in 1998. His virtuosity is matched by how well his gifts serve the needs of the play.

In 1989, Hinds, a professor in the theater department at the University of California Riverside, wrote the first play based on hip-hop. He is one of the leading lights in the burgeoning hip-hop theater movement and when I asked him if he felt that having plays known as “hip-hop theater” marginalized them, he acknowledged that it does happen but that “It also opens up the theater to new audiences. Like my 19-year-old son and his friends.”

I don’t think there were many regular theatergoers in the house on the night I saw Dreamscape. Afterward, there was a spirited discussion of the play and the issues it raises. One woman stood up and said: “My son was killed six months ago by the police. What can we do?”

In response, Hinds acknowledged that Dreamscape provides no answers. But in dramatizing the issue with such artistry, the play brings people together. That’s where answers can begin.

If you are interested in booking a performance of Dreamscape, contact Rickerby Hinds at rickerby.hinds@ucr.edu.

Lee Ballinger, CounterPunch’s music columnist, is co-editor of Rock and Rap Confidential author of the forthcoming book Love and War: My First Thirty Years of Writing, interviewed Honkala for CounterPunch. RRRC is now available for free by emailing Ballinger at: rockrap@aol.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

December 05, 2016
Bill Martin
Stalingrad at Standing Rock?
Mark A. Lause
Recounting a Presidential Election: the Backstory
Mel Goodman
Mad Dog Mattis and Trump’s “Seven Days in May”
Matthew Hannah
Standing Rock and the Ideology of Oppressors: Conversations with a Morton County Commissioner
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
#NoDAPL Scores Major Victory: No Final Permit For Pipeline
Fran Shor
The End of the Indispensable Nation
Michael Yates
Vietnam: the War That Won’t Go Away
Michael Uhl
Notes on a Trip to Cuba
Robert Hunziker
Huge Antarctica Glacier in Serious Trouble
John Steppling
Screen Life
David Macaray
Trump vs. America’s Labor Unions
Yoav Litvin
Break Free and Lead, or Resign: a Letter to Bernie Sanders
Norman Pollack
Taiwan: A Pustule on International Politics
Kevin Martin
Nuclear Weapons Modernization: a New Nuclear Arms Race? Who Voted for it? Who Will Benefit from It?
David Mattson
3% is not Enough: Towards Restoring Grizzly Bears
Howard Lisnoff
The Person Who Deciphered the Order to Shoot at Kent State
Dave Archambault II
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Statement on Dakota Access Pipeline Decision
Nick Pemberton
Make America Late Again
Weekend Edition
December 02, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
The Coming War on China
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The CIA’s Plots to Kill Castro
Paul Street
The Iron Heel at Home: Force Matters
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
Timberg’s Tale: Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites
Andrew Levine
Must We Now Rethink the Hillary Question? Absolutely, Not
Joshua Frank
CounterPunch as Russian Propagandists: the Washington Post’s Shallow Smear
David Rosen
The Return of HUAC?
Rob Urie
Race and Class in Trump’s America
Patrick Cockburn
Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could be Wrong
Caroline Hurley
Anatomy of a Nationalist
Ayesha Khan
A Muslim Woman’s Reflections on Trump’s Misogyny
Michael Hudson – Steve Keen
Rebel Economists on the Historical Path to a Global Recovery
Russell Mokhiber
Sanders Single Payer and Death by Democrat
Roger Harris
The Triumph of Trump and the Specter of Fascism
Steve Horn
Donald Trump’s Swamp: Meet Ten Potential Energy and Climate Cabinet Picks and the Pickers
Ralph Nader
Trump and His Betraying Makeover
Louis Proyect
Deepening Contradictions: Identity Politics and Steelworkers
Stephen Kimber
The Media’s Abysmal Coverage of Castro’s Death
Dan Bacher
WSPA: The West’s Most Powerful Corporate Lobbying Group
Nile Bowie
Will Trump backpedal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Ron Ridenour
Fidel’s Death Brings Forth Great and Sad Memories
Missy Comley Beattie
By Invitation Only
Fred Gardner
Sword of Damocles: Pot Partisans Fear Trump’s DOJ
Renee Parsons
Obama and Propornot
Dean Baker
Cash and Carrier: Trump and Pence Put on a Show
Jack Rasmus
Taming Trump: From Faux Left to Faux Right Populism
Ron Jacobs
Selling Racism—A Lesson From Pretoria
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail