“The Red Record: A Narrative of Lives Lost In Misdeeds Too Numerous To Disclose” by Angela Jackson (Homage to Ida B. Wells-Barnett and the Red Record)

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A Southern winter evening
The dusk deepening
The stars staggering across the deep sky
he walked toward his father’s house,
On the edge of manhood
Chewing bright colored candy,
Sipping sweet tea from a can,
Walking, the elan, the smooth
rough edges of the hair
hooded or out
standing, simply
being while Black.

The same state of flowers, same dark and stars
Chilling in an suv, on his way to his father’s house,
Loving living,
The gas station lit up with lights and loud sound,
The edge of manhood, his crew
Thrilling, the music in their veins,
The swag in the beat,
Pulsing with energy, pressing out
Into atmosphere,
Life, irrepressible
Being and Black.

The deep music of the skin, melodious
Hurting the eyes of fearful men.
The movements, swigs of grace
Burning rage in the throats of angry men.
Smiles, bent, singular wing of angels torn by vicious men.

On the edge of manhood
Being while Black, poised magnificent.

Here lie incidents primed like a blue wall:

A giant of a Black man standing alone
On the New York side walk, accused of being
A misdemeanor by felonious men
Who rode him like a beast
Of burdens. They burdened him
Downpressed in a chokehold.
“I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe.” Eleven times.
They held his breath
Until it was not.

They looked in his face
And spoke to the absence
In the land of the living.

Walking in the middle of the Missouri street
On the yellow line, his swag
Owning the broad day.  Nineteen
Like that. Feeling himself.
The cop pulled him over. Then
The story changes like a gambler’s luck.
Witnesses say — it was murder —
“Hands up. Don’t shoot” After he’d walked away.
“Hands up. Don’t shoot.” Shots. Six.
Black young man broad body lay
Four hours in the middle of the Missouri street
In broad sunlight.

A day dreaming boy playing alone on a playground in Cleveland
Toy gun in hand, on the playground
Someone called, suspecting toy,
Cop car pulled up, two seconds, quick as nothing,
Boy falls from bullets, real police bullets,
Twelve years old
Playing while Black.
His sister wept like Jesus wept
over him. They tore her away
threw her in the squad car.
Weeping illegal while Black.

Early in Cali the Black young man
How he partied on New Year’s Eve
On the train, an altercation
Near Fruitvale Station
The cop shot him point

In Phoenix he was running
from the oxycotin in his
pocket, the marijuana
in the car, the jail time
for him, policeman
wrestled him
shots to torso.|His nine year old daughter wrote,
“Why didn’t you taze him?”

Nervous men jump at shadows.
Jittery men pull the trigger at their imagination.
Jealous men throw down the coat of many colors, black, sepia, tan, yellow, white.
Threatened men cannot serve and protect,
Uphold the peace.

I can’t breathe.
In Cleveland
137 shots fired into a stopped car
That fled for an hour, police said,
They feared for themselves
from a gun, non-existent.
existed: a woman, a man,
137 shots
policeman on the hood of the car
shot into the windshield over and again.
How many bullets does it take
To take a man, a woman’s breath

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In Baltimore, minor arrest, cuffs and ankle shackles.
They threw him in the paddy wagon,
On his stomach, a rough ride, like
a sack of onions, body crying in layers
spine broken, dying slowly.
Crashed his car in the Carolina night.
No help at neighbor’s door. They
Called police at
His call for help.
He walked toward police,
Empty handed as an infant, loose hands,
They shone ever-lasting light
on him. He ran
toward the search light. Into the light.
They shot twelve times.
His dying limbs
Of the Resurrection
Of the Body.


In Cincinnati, Texas, Baltimore
In Ferguson, Missouri, Carolinas,
In Florida, New York, Cleveland, Ohio,
Magnificent, the lion-hearted people,
Have you seen the dignity?

Sometimes father, pride of pride,
Sometimes son, sometimes woman,
Sometimes daughter,
Sometimes a mane amazing.
Stopped in the act: being Black.

The eyes of the killer surprised.
“I did nothing wrong.”

I have a license;”
I have the right color.” “I have a badge.”
“I’m standing my ground.”
The eyes of the killer surprised
by the spotlight,
relieved by release,
license renewed.

The Red Record, a multiplication table
of blood.

Someone said,
“She should have put the cigarette out.”
And given up
Her last right to be herself
In her own car,
Driving where no law was broken
By smoking.

The officer told her to
put it out.
He said, “I’ll light you up.
(Like a lit cigarette
put you out.)
He dragged her out
Of her car.
He reached into her car
And pulled her out.
The long arm of the law
Against the law.
Shoved her onto the ground
And slammed her head down
like a football
and he was making a touchdown,

In Chicago
He wandered down the center
Of the dark street,
turned away
from police out of cars,
sixteen shots,
dust leapt up,
sixteen shots in his jacket,
his body toppled
and what of the girl
in a crowd caught
a bullet, Chicago

In Minnesota
a black woman with
terrified eyes records
the murder of her man,
her child watches
from back, the blood,
final breath,

In South
Police bear down on man
Hug and shoot.
The streets come alive
With out cry.

The cold wall, sea to sea shining,
dutifully, yet hegemony stands
without guilt, or shame or blame.
How to cleanse wrong when wrong
Is lifted up, acquitted?

I break the record. The names too
multitudinous to list.  I break
the record listing obliteration
of Black presence, elan, beingness.
I cannot keep count.

No one hates police
Who come to the door
To settle the argument.
Nobody hates the cops
Who stop the robbers.
No one hates police
Who wrestle the murderer
With blood in his eyes.
No one shoots the sheriff
Who shields the woman
And girl and boy
from the rapist.
Nobody despises
The deputy who honors
The law and brings
An order that honors
The human heart and dignity
Of every man, woman, and child.
No one hates the policeman or
woman who wants to go home
at night kiss the wife
or husband and the kids.
Watch the moon.  See the sun.
Eat his gun. Or put on suit, shield, baton and go on.
No one hates police
Who bring respect
Instead of blood on their hands.


Who can forgive?
An American sin.
A church held saints who loved
Even the one who hated them
As they prayed with eyes closed.
He gunned them down in the sanctuary.
A nation wept and the wicked winked
Through processed tears.
A flag came down
In a ceremony of grief and regret.
Yet the wicked proposed
The confederacy to fly serenely
In parks so that animals
Might salute.
I’ll tell you this truth.
We love everyone and thing God has made.
Yet the wicked, the evil, must work
For forgiveness.
Even after we have, at last given it.


Angela Jackson–poet, playwright, and novelist– is a recipient of the Shelley Memorial Award of the Poetry Society of America, a Pushcart Prize for poetry, American Book awards for poetry and a novel, Where I Must Go (Northwestern University Press 2009). The sequel, Roads, Where There Are no Roads (Northwestern 2017) was awarded the John Gardner Fiction Prize. A Surprised Queenhood in the New Black Sun: The Life & Legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks (Beacon Press 2017) was published to celebrate Brooks’ centennial. In 1998 Jackson’s All These Roads Be Luminous (Northwestern) was nominated for the National Book Award. It Seems Like a Mighty Long (Northwestern University Press 2015) was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and was a finalist for both the Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. “The Red Record” is from a work-in-progress.