Police brutality, which means the excessive and unnecessary use of physical force on the part of police officers in the line of duty, is one of America’s hottest political topics.
Despite of the US’s commitment to advancing human rights and democracy worldwide; Americans of all races, ethnicities, ages, classes, and genders have been subjected to police brutality.
In 1998, for example, Human Rights Watch issued a report that found that 14 major US cities, including Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, lacked effective systems to hold police accountable for the unjustified use of force, and consistently failed to investigate and punish officers, or deliver justice.
However, this phenomenon started to take a new serious dimension in recent years, especially after President Donald Trump’s speech to the law enforcement officers in Long Island, New York, in 2017, in which he endorsed police brutality, and openly encouraged police officers to abuse people they arrest.
Recent statistics show that the number of people killed by the US police jumped from 962 in 2015 to 1,164 in 2018. Ironically, there were only 23 days in 2018 where police did not kill someone, according to Mapping Police Violence organisation.
In the same vein, a very recent study conducted in 2019 by a team of researchers from Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis, under the title ‘Risk of being killed by police’s use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex’, emphasized that fatal police violence becomes a leading cause of death for young men in America just like cancer and car accidents. The study also asserted that while young men in general face a higher risk of being killed by police violence, the level of risk changes depending on race.
Most seriously, US policemen used to walk free after shooting dead unarmed citizens, especially if the victims are Native Americans or the ethnic minorities. There are many examples of unarmed young men who were killed by law-enforcement officers and became national news stories sparking widespread protests, but their killers did not face charges—such as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (August 2014); Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Maryland (April 2015); the Arab student Saif Al Ameri, Ohio (December 2016), and Stephan Clark, California, (March of 2019).
Until the Flood, currently on Arcola Theatre, London, is a quasi docu-play by Pulitzer Prize Finalist and Obie Award Winner Dael Orlandersmith that documents one of these unspoken crimes of the policemen in the US. The play is based on extensive interviews with Missouri residents after the 2014 shooting of the unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. It aims to give voice to a community rallying for justice and a country still yearning for change. It represents the broad spectrum of perspectives towards the violations committed by police officers, through a series of characters not directly involved in the shooting, in a 70- minute one- act performed by the author herself.
However, the play is not a traditional documentary work that represents verbatim reenactments of the interviews that have been recorded by the author. Instead, the author cunningly created composite figures that drew from multiple interviews, as well as from people she had encountered in her life, exploring all the views and opinions without bias. Hence, the play includes black, white, male, female, young, and old people.
It displays both the opinions of the white supremacist, who openly relishes the idea of shooting down blacks in Ferguson, as well the angry black teen, who fantasizes about committing suicide by a cop. The action of the play is staged on a single platform with an imaginary waviness, emphasizing the metaphorical meaning of the play’s title, which refers to the Biblical great flood of Noah’s time that destroyed the world because of people’s sins.
Obviously, the play has a redemptive message as it ends with a black universalist minister, who talks about going to the protests in Ferguson and praying for blacks and whites, police and protesters alike. ‘Until the Flood’ is a play that reveals a hidden dark side of the modern-day America, where Americans struggle against police misconduct and the lack of accountability for policemen’s crimes
Marwa El-Shinawy holds a PhD in American theatre, and is a member of the Higher Committee for the Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre.