Black And Blue



When a white police officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th 2014, it sparked a wave of protest across America and became emblematic in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Now, six black American playwrights aged between 30 and 40 years old, dig deep into what it's like being young, black and male today in an America of institutionalised profiling.

Hands Up'began as part of a theatre festival, The New Black Fest, based in New York. Keith Josef Adkins who runs the festival wanted these playwrights to think hard about their personal politics and to respond to what happened in Ferguson. They looked at the immediate aftermath of the tragic event, the protests and the wider implications.

Their testaments are extremely varied. For some, what happened to Michael Brown could happen to them anytime, any day, and they live in constant fear of witnessing or experiencing profiling, harassment, arrest and even a fatal shooting. Others feel guilty about not being able to relate to the racism Michael Brown faced because they come from a wealthier background, or because they come from the metropolis, or are lighter skinned. For one writer it's a sense of ambivalence because he was adopted by white parents. They all attempt to understand Brown's experience, to figure out what he could have done differently, if anything. They share their fears and feelings through real and imagined scenarios, and they offer their ideas and dreams about how to fight racism and change society.

The plays are linked by comments from young black men interviewed on the streets of New York and documentary news material from St Louis Public Radio and WBEZ Chicago.

The plays and playwrights:

How I Feel by Dennis A. Allen II

Walking Next to Michael Brown by Eric Holmes

Superiority Fantasy by Nathan James

Holes in my Identity by Nathan Yungerberg

They Shootin! by Idris Goodwin

Abortion: Letter to a Beautiful Soul by NSangou Njikam

This is the first in a two part series, Black and Blue, about black men and the police in America, broadcast on consecutive days. Judith Kampfner adapted Hands Up from the stage and the second play, String Music, from a George Pelecanos short story. Both were recorded and produced in America.

Music by Gene Pritsker

Sound Design by Allen Towbin

Produced by Judith Kampfner

A Corporation for Independent Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Six black male playwrights explore their feelings about race and police violence in the US


Tonio is a teenager from a rough part of Washington DC who escapes his troubled life by playing pickup basketball. One afternoon, he impulsively insults some fellow players. They threaten him. He knows he's in for a long drawn out struggle. A seasoned white cop patrolling the neighbourhood tries to protect Tonio because he knows he's a good kid. The question is - what hope does a kindly cop have of preventing assault or worse? What will happen to Tonio now that a gang is after him?

String Music by George Pelecanos is from his short story collection The Martini Shot, adapted by Judith Kampfner. Crime writer Pelecanos tells stories about the area of DC where he grew up. For years, he's observed life on the streets, in the clubs, parks and playgrounds of a bad neighbourhood and listened to the diversity of voices in his community. He has been called 'the Zola of Washington DC and Emmy nominated for his TV work, writing and producing for The Wire and Treme.

String Music is set in the summer of 2001 when DC had one of the highest murder rates in the country. The streets that are home to Tonio and Sergeant Peters are especially violent this summer weekend when both the humidity and the tension rise.

This is the second in a two part series, Black and Blue, about black men and the police in America, recorded and produced in New York City and broadcast on consecutive days. The cast - many of whom performed in the TV series The Wire - all come from the area of Washington DC where the story is set, giving the drama authentic characters with the distinctive 'street' accent.

Sound Design by Charles De Montebello

Adapted and produced by Judith Kampfner

A Corporation for Independent Media production for BBC Radio 4.

A white beat cop tries to protect a picked-upon black teenager in a troubled area of DC.