Last Tuesday, I experienced Intersections’ staged reading of Uniform Justice, a play we produced in Memphis, TN after months of conversations between law enforcement personnel and members of a mostly African American community. In Memphis, like in Ferguson, MO, trust in the police force—and policing in general—has become deeply strained. With support from the Mayor’s office, our TE’A company, guided by Farid Johnson, Vieve Price and Chuk Obasi, worked with both police and community members to develop and perform a play that addresses the issue of retaliatory violence—a significant problem in urban areas across our country. Applying the insight theory of conflict transformation to the streets of Memphis, under the direction of Professor Jamie Price, was a project initially funded by the Department of Justice through the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.
Our purpose in presenting the staged reading at Intersections was to introduce both the play and the process behind it to city officials, local law enforcement personnel, artists, academics and activists to see if we could replicate the process in cities in the greater New York area. Urban centers in the northeast—Newark, East Orange, Montclair, Jersey City and New York City—were represented in Tuesday’s audience and offered an enthusiastic response to the powerful drama that unfolded in our performance space on West 28th Street. The New York actors who performed the roles powerfully portrayed an incident wherein a “conflict, not a crime” (as one of the characters states) escalates to the point of tragedy.
Circulating through the crowd following the play, the most common word I heard among law enforcement and city officials was the word “real,” referring to the trap of retaliatory violence—often originating as disputes among friends or family members—that afflicts so many lives in our urban areas and, increasingly, in our suburbs as well.
Using the arts to expose and articulate issues of social justice is a core aspect of Intersections’ work, and the presentation of Uniform Justice served as a great example of how “keeping it real” can then lead to constructive community dialogue and, ultimately, to policy prescriptions that change the way our society functions.
Too often, such conversations are superficial or absent altogether. At Intersections, we position ourselves at those boundary points, those thin places between soldier and civilian, between Muslim and Jew, between atheist and evangelical, between artist and activist—as we seek to turn those border lines into intersections. We lead people to unite across lines of difference in the mutual pursuit of social justice, both globally and locally. We create safe space at the crossroads of some of our world’s most critical conflicts, engaging diverse communities in dialogue, service, advocacy and artistic expression. And, throughout it all, we seek assurance to “keep it real.” This way, we can work together toward a just world—united in our diversity.