Read “Situation Script: India Kager ‘ Caught in the Crossfire’”
The visual dominating old runaway slave advertisements is the image of a black man with one leg up and bent, as if in motion. This criminalization of black mobility, specifically for black men, still rears its brutal head today. Both Jesmyn Ward and Claudia Rankine explore and dissect this criminalization of black male mobility in Men We Reaped and Citizen, each presenting different forms of emotional evidence. Ward focuses on narrative, utilizing imagination and speculation to create the moments before death that evoke empathy from the reader, for the five men taken from her. On the other hand, Rankine manipulates repetition, quotation and imagery to reveal the effect police brutality and microaggressions have on the body. With Men We Reaped and Citizen in mind, I used these methods to illustrate the way black women’s bodies (India Kager’s specifically) are rendered invisible and inconsequential by society (media and police), unless they are sexualized or masculinized.
In order to highlight India’s invisibility, I needed to first make her visible by communicating her humanity. Making only local news, there are many unanswered questions about the shooting of India Kager and Angelo Perry, including Kager’s life prior. Knowing only that she went to Duke Ellington School of the Arts for music and fought in the Navy, I chose to follow Ward’s example and imagine a more precise past and what the morning before Kager was murdered was like, in order to elicit an emotional response from the reader. I wanted to cultivate a tangible humanity for the character of “you” (India). I did so by being specific: her memory and experience of war, recognizable exhaustion, and decision to leave a bowl of oatmeal unfinished. Even her moment with Angelo was loving but mundane. I wanted it to be understood that the police officers’ act of brutal violence was indifferent, or perhaps personal by consciously deciding that her life was not worth anything. By giving “you” a daily life influenced by a past, the impact and urgency of this pervasive collective social understanding that black women either do not matter or do not exist increases.
One way I navigated these imagined and actual events was repetition. Several media sources reported India’s murder as a result of her being “caught in the crossfire.” The word “caught” implies that India’s death was in the hands of fate, something beyond anyone’s control. This word choice relieves the four white police officers of accountability. It diminishes the fact that the police officers either neglected to see India, her body invisible to them, or saw her and deemed her inconsequential, a casualty of war. The repetition of the word “bang” thirty times, mostly in succession, was intended to startle the reader and emphasize the excessive and aggressive nature of the police officers’ response to the situation. The police officers did in fact shoot at Angelo Perry and India Kager thirty times in a row.
Another strategy I derived from Citizen is Rankine’s incorporation of quotation into her situation scripts. She includes the words of family, witnesses, media, and police in order to cultivate a wider context for the various injustices she writes about. Her placement and juxtaposition of these quotations often adds another layer of meaning. Related to India Kager’s death, Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera told the Washington Post, “Virginia Beach Police Department and our officers believe in the sanctity of life. We do everything we can to mitigate violent conflict.” Cervera not only denied the use of excessive force but claimed, on behalf of the police department, the desire to protect and honor life. Placing this quotation in the midst of the chorus of “bang”s was intended to beg the questions: Whose life is deemed worth protecting? Why was India’s life not considered? Why is she not seen, or not seen as a citizen whose existence should be acknowledged or valued? These questions I attempted to evoke also reflect the response of Kager’s mother to the shooting. The two quotations I included in the situation script are both a series of questions. The accumulation of questions is evidence of the notion that the condition of black life is not only one of mourning, as Rankine has argued, but also uncertainty. This condition of living is not only a result of the invisibility attributed to black (female) life, but also of the danger and vulnerability in the moments that black life is visible.
In class, we discussed Rankine’s focus on the effects of microaggressions and blatant aggression on the black body, embodied by imagery of these physical reactions to being damaged: a headache or a sigh. I tackled physical imagery as well in my situation script, but took a slightly different approach inspired by bell hooks, who said, “No other group in America has so had their identity socialized out of existence as have black women… When black people are talked about the focus tends to be on black men; and when women are talked about the focus tends to be on white women.” I explored this idea of a body being forced to disappear in my writing. Throughout the text, pieces of India, of the character “you,” become part of the surrounding environment. Some body parts disappear more violently than others. For example, India’s toes simply “fade” into dust, while her legs are “ripped off and pulled into the pavement.” This variation represents the various faces making someone invisible can wear: a hurtful remark or a round of bullets. In the beginning of the script, there is an exchange between India and her commanding naval officer. In this moment her body (though not her personal humanity) is visible because of her perceived “aggression” and sexuality. The other black body in the room, the fly she stares at to avoid eye contact, is conducive to understanding the danger that India’s own body is experiencing inside of her moment of visibility. The image of the fallen fly (and beer bottle) also represents the concept, reinforced by action, that black bodies are disposable and an afterthought. These images mirror the way India and her body were considered only after she and it were shot.
Without video documentation, it doesn’t surprise me that most people don’t know about India Kager. In this situation script, I wanted to not only employ the devices used by Jesmyn Ward and Claudia Rankine to demonstrate the ways in which black female bodies are in danger when seen and not seen, but also to give India’s name a body and an individual history held within that body, though the details were of my own imagination. While America often deems black women inconsequential, I hope that the emotional weight of this script convinces readers that the life of this black woman, unknown to most, mattered.
Associated Press. “Maryland Woman Among 2 Killed In Gunfire Exchange With Va. Police.” CBS Baltimore. CBS Baltimore, 8 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.Limon, Alexandra. “Family Mourns Md. Mother Killed in Police Shooting.” WTTG. Fox 5, 10 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.
Rankine, Claudia. Citizen: An American Lyric. Minneapolis: Greywolf, 2014. Print.
Ward, Jesmyn. Men We Reaped: A Memoir. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2014. Print.
Zauzmer, Julie, and Ian Shapira. “With 4-month-old Baby in Car, Both Parents Killed by Virginia Beach Police.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 8 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.