Readings — From the June 2015 issue

Making Amends

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By John Edgar Wideman. Wideman is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine.

I’m pleased to see you all could attend this gathering. Thank you for coming out with little advance notice. Some of you I recognized immediately because of the media coverage your cases have received — Mr. Scott, Mr. Garner, Mr. Brown, welcome. But I assure you, familiar to me or not, each and every one of you is equally welcome. The auditorium is overflowing, but well lit, and I can see clearly that you represent all sizes, shapes, colors, ages. Yet you have all earned the distinction of being unarmed black men killed by white police. Or perhaps I should be more precise and say black males killed by white police, since some of you are children.

No one — least of all me, your elected representative — is pleased about the fate you have suffered. It’s a crying shame in this day and age to observe daily how certain citizens of our great nation are subjected to intolerable treatment . . . thank you . . . thank you for your applause and cheers, but, gentlemen, please take your seats again, please. We have serious business to conduct this morning.

The nation has been afflicted with what might be called unfortunate bumps on the road to progress and prosperity. Those of us in charge, supremely me, regret these unacceptable, though perhaps unavoidable, jostles. Allow me to speak bluntly and come directly to the point. I have taken notice of the problem and intend to rectify it. I promise to make amends.

Given the immense power of the office I hold, no doubt to some folks I may appear to be omnipotent — a word, just in case you might not be familiar with it, means I can do anything I want to do, anytime, anywhere, to anybody. Yet despite my vast empowerment, I cannot restore to you the lives that were snatched away by police officers. In order to make amends for your loss, I am determined to offer each and every one of you an unprecedented opportunity. You will have the chance to meet your killers face-to-face in a touch-football game.

This remedy may seem a bit odd at first, especially considering how many of you there are and how many police. But be patient, my friends, and allow me to explain.

Without stretching even a tiny bit the legitimate authority entrusted to me, I have arranged all necessary details of the impending match — arena, rules, referees, sponsors, global television rights. Who wouldn’t pay to watch you fellows perform on that great American leveler, the playing field? The world will be watching as you compete with your assailants, no holds barred. Only this time, no weapons. Simply all of them versus all of you, mano a mano, till one side cries, “No más.

Thank you. Thank you. I am profoundly grateful for your enthusiasm, your vote of confidence, but let’s settle down, men. And please excuse me a moment. As you regain your places, I must attend to this note an assistant has just handed me.

Oh my. I’m afraid I will have to disappoint you all again. At least for now. This moment. Today. But since your time’s up, you have plenty of it to spare. An infinity of it, so to speak. So relax. Cool it, as we used to say back in the day.

The attorney general has informed me that the district attorney has informed her that the grand jury has informed him it’s raining cats and dogs. Obviously the game must be postponed until the weather is more propitious.

You. The tall, large gentleman over there with his hand up. Mr. Brown, I presume. You have a question, sir.

Yessir. How long? How long rain gonna fall?

I’m afraid I’m not a weatherman, sir. And besides, your question is out of order. As well as irrelevant. You are dead, remember.

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