The start of a new week saw most of the late-night shows moving on from a few previous weeks of giving over their platforms to mostly Black guests in the wake of the massive, worldwide, and still very much ongoing Black Lives Matter protests after the murder of George Floyd. There was plenty of stuff about the fact that Donald Trump walks like an elderly, overweight man when going down a ramp, an ableist piling-on perhaps mitigated by Trump’s long history of school bully ad hominem attacks on the appearance, capability, and supposed other failings of literally anyone who’s ever criticized him. Stephen Colbert had on Black Pumas doing an inevitably moving cover of Tracy Chapman’s inner city story-song “Fast Car,” but things—as far as bookings go—went back to the way things have traditionally been. (If you want another story about Martin Short and Jimmy Fallon hanging out with Lorne Michaels and Paul McCartney, you’re all set.)
Trevor Noah, meanwhile, continued the urgently necessary conversation about race in America on The Daily Show, with Georgia’s rightful governor Stacey Abrams and singer-songwriter Alicia Keys giving their thoughts on everything from Georgia’s suspiciously disastrous recent election to the function of protest (and, in Keys’ case, protest songs). Then Noah turned things over to himself (an easy booking in these quarantined days of Zoom calls and a complete lack of entertainment premieres to promote) to break down his reaction to “another Monday in the middle of corona and in the middle of protests about police brutality and, yet, it’s another Monday of another police brutality incident. Another story that has people going, ‘How long? How much? When is it enough?’” That in response to another caught-on-camera death of a Black man, Rayshard Brooks, at the hands of white police officers.
In a thoughtful eight-minute segment in which the host often appeared to be searching for the right words, Noah did an admirable job of trying to anatomize just how a seemingly innocuous interaction between a Black man and the cops went so catastrophically, bloodily wrong. Admitting that, perhaps, the all-too-familiar story might not have garnered as much attention if literally the entire world weren’t in the streets protesting police abuses against Black people, Noah further noted that the escalation in this case was a cluster-fuck of mutual bad decisions. Brooks was drunk and passed out in a fast food drive-through lane. He resisted eventual arrest. He grabbed an officer’s taser. He was running away. He was shot—by a policeman’s gun—multiple times in the back. Noah seemed genuinely trying to step back from the “battle stations” Americans inevitably run to in calling the whole thing “messy.” “It’s fucking messy,” he said, “It’s not the perfect story.” But, Noah stated, because it’s not the (echoes intended) black-and-white story such entrenched minds would have it be, “We should look at it in the most perfect way possible.”
We’re not drunk. (Well, some of us.) We’re not armed and in a loaded confrontation with an unarmed person during a time when America’s long and unbroken history of racist law enforcement has the country on the thinnest edge. We’re not passed out in a Wendy’s parking lot, or fingering between our non-lethal and lethal weapons as we talk to an unarmed person offering to just walk away. Noah did his best to navigate the mess, ceding the ground that Brooks did a number of unwise and illegal things before he was killed, while yet pleading with viewers to at least admit that Brooks didn’t deserve to die. Anticipating the “ifs” that defenders of the police involved will counter with, Noah responded, “The ‘ifs’ keep on changing.” “If you didn’t have a toy gun and were 12 years old in the middle of a park,” Noah began, recalling the murder of Tamir Rice, before rattling off other—according to some—death-worthy crimes as talking back to the police, or wearing a hoodie (Noah was wearing a hoodie), or, concluding with the still-unpunished murder of Breonna Taylor on a no-knock warrant, “if you weren’t sleeping in your bed as a Black woman.”
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