World premiere of “SHOT” drives home Seattle’s police brutality conversation

Seattle anticipates the world premiere of “SHOT,” a contemporary dance production centering the murder of black people by police. (Image from Spectrum Dance Theater)

Tomorrow, Jan. 19, Spectrum Dance Company is presenting their world premiere of  “SHOT,” a highly anticipated contemporary dance production that examines the ongoing issue of race and police brutality. “SHOT” will be showing through Feb. 4 at Seattle Repertory Theatre..

The production was choreographed by award-winning artistic director Donald Byrd, who has shifted Seattle’s contemporary dance scene by centering social issues, from police brutality, to the Holocaust, war in Iraq, and post 9/11 America. “SHOT” “explores not only the systemic and institutionalized slaughter of blacks by police, but also their outward intensification and militarization where a ‘shoot first, think later’ method to policing is fortified, and at times, praised by a force that is entrusted with the duty to protect and serve,” according to Byrd in a Spectrum press release.

Last night, the dance company also co-hosted the discussion “Race and Police Brutality” at Washington Hall featuring panelists Byrd; Sheley Secrest, the vice president of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who announced she was running for city council on Monday; and Seattle Community Police Commission’s Lisa Daugaard.

According to Secrest, racial bias is a major problem within Seattle’s criminal justice system.

“Some of the racial bias is in who gets arrested [and] who doesn’t,” Secrest said in a phone interview the day of the panel.

Black Americans involved in criminal activities have a higher chance of getting arrested compared to their Caucasian counterparts, according to Secrest. It’s also easier for Caucasian suspects to get pre-trial release than their black counterparts, she said. This level of discrimination not only harms people with psychological trauma and “the weight of oppression” Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of, but breaks families part, negatively affecting the children whose parents were prosecuted.

The issue of police brutality has caught both domestic and international attention in the last few years. After United Nation’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent visited the United States last September, they issued a statement expressing that they remained “extremely concerned about the human rights situation of African Americans” despite Black Lives Matters’ notable advocacy efforts for racial justice, legal and policy reforms and citizen control over policing. The group, in a statement, noted that in consideration of the U.S.’s deep history of structural racism, “there has been no real commitment to reparations and to truth and reconciliation for people of African descent.”

In the statement, the group talked about the structural discrimination in American criminal justice system that is linked to police killing, impunity of such acts, and lack of an official data on the number of people killed by law enforcement agency. According to the group, these unaddressed problems prevent African Americans from having full human rights and should be dealt with urgently.

Although Secrest said Seattle has top national ranking in terms of awareness of the excessive use of force on African Americans, a survey conducted by Crosscut seems to suggest otherwise. According to the survey, which is cited on Race and Police Brutality discussion webpage, only 36 percent of people state wide support the Black Lives Matter movement. In response to the question of whether or not race influences the police’s use of force, just 50 percent of survey participants agree that race has an affect.

Secrest said the role of events like the panel discussion last night serves as a reminder to people and also helps to keep track of what each organization is doing to solve this problem.

She said that in order to eliminate systematic discrimination against African Americans, we can’t stop at changing the law. She gave the example that even though there are laws against police officers killing African Americans, the jury is often reluctant to reach a verdict against police officers.

“We need to shift the attitude and how we deal with racism,” Secrest said, adding the importance of having “a value system where we all have the right to live.”

“SHOT” premieres at Seattle Repertory Theatre tomorrow night, Jan. 19, at 7:30 p.m., and runs through Feb. 4. For ticket information, please visit www.spectrumdance.org/events/shot.

 

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