Known To Police – One of the realest plays yet
July 1, 2012
Powerful, thought-provoking, intense, triggering. A play that displayed such resilience, hope and unity. An ensemble brave, courageous and real enough to talk about the things that society often pushes under the rug, turns a blind eye to or deems unimportant. That is what I experienced Saturday night as I watched the theatre play Known To Police. There were times where I sat at the edge of my seat, moments where I laughed and others where I had to take a deep breath and refrain from walking out of the theatre, because shit got real.
Put on by Nomanzland, with a cast made up of all young people it felt as if I was taking a journey into my everyday world — sitting on the outside looking in — all in 90 minutes.
Whether you have been a victim firsthand to police brutality, or witnessed it with your own eyes, Known To Police told a story that those of us who grew up in the ’hood know all too well. Automatically being targeted because of where you live. Broken down neighbourhoods. Police profiling. Police corruption. A mother’s frustration with keeping her kids safe from the very same people that are supposed to serve and protect them. Oppression and poverty. That’s just to name a few. The daily struggle. Like rapper/actress Lola Bunz says in a song she performs in the play, “We minority living in priority… And even though we tryna live the good life, we always stuck in the ’hood life.”
I was immediately blown away by Dalmar, a cast member, who narrated throughout the play as she painted such intense, vivid pictures through her storytelling and spoken word. She told stories of our ancestors who slaved and worked with bloody and blistered hands, to provide a better life for us. This was all amidst heartfelt scenes which told stories like that of a mother who begged her son not to go and watched him turn and walk away. The same mother, who later heard an impatient knock on the door, answered and heard the words, “Sorry to inform you but your son was killed today by a gunshot wound to the head. The police shot him.” Chills ran through my body, as I experienced sudden flashbacks of my own experiences and encounters with crooked officers and thoughts of my loved ones who fell victim to police brutality surfaced.
“We minority living in priority… And even though we tryna live the good life, we always stuck in the ’hood life.” – Lola Bunz
Known To Police touched on the importance of unity, but even more importantly it explored the mindset that has allowed us to beef with our own people, just what the police want us to do. Pin us against each other while killing us off one by one. It pushed questions like, “why are we killing of each other when we need to be rising together to rise above police corruption?” That’s a good question actually.
“Me haffi fight government and haffi fight him to,” says character Patrice. She is the Jamaican mother of 18-year-old Dante who was street involved, and sadly shot to death by crooked officers, leaving the community to mourn and in an uproar with anger. That isn’t the only showcase of police brutality in the production. When two youth are arrested and searched without reason, they are beaten and banged up during interrogation at the police station. I’m sure many of us have heard stories from our friends of their own personal encounters, if we haven’t experienced it ourselves.
Each scene of the play had me anticipating what would come next as so many important social issues that youth face daily were weaved into its context. The flow was on point. Through spoken word, singing, rapping and monologues the ensemble creatively pieced together powerful messages and storytelling using words in a way that so clearly penetrated my ear drums as they spoke with aggressiveness but not intimidation.
Brave enough to speak the words so many of us are afraid to, the young actors/actresses challenged us to not only think, but act, outside the box. They really put the harsh reality into perspective, personally giving me a wakeup call. If we want to enforce any sort of change it needs start with us rising above together and resisting temptation to seek physical revenge on the very same people that have done so much injustice to us: the police.
The play ended with lit candles and a vigil in memory of those known to police. Quotes were shouted out as the characters rose together. “Yeah, he was known to police, but at the end of the day he was a good guy,” they said. “Fuck Ford, fuck Harper, the streets of Jane and Finch shall rise,” they chanted. And of course my favourite saying of the night, “Free the streets, lock up the police!”
After the play, which was given a standing ovation, I looked around the Young People’s Theatre, wondering if there were any police in the audience and how vital it would be for them to be there. The stories shared on stage were real. And they needed to be there to witness firsthand the effects police brutality and corruption has on our young people and the communities left to pick up the pieces. Politicians and those in power period need to know. I’ve watched many plays in my young lifetime but Known To Police by far is one of the best plays I’ve watched in years. The fact that days later I’m still reflecting on what I watched as well as my own personal thoughts… Mind blowing.
Words By. Michelle Green