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Embodied Threat

Analyzing Billy Idol’s “Cyberpunk” video, Thomas Foster notes

After Idol’s character stands and begins to move, following [his] transformation [into a cyborg], the police open fire on him, apparently interpreting his merely standing in front of them in this newly embodied form as a threat, in the same way that the police and their lawyers justified the beating of Rodney King by attributing a threatening intentionality to his mere visible presence before them as a black man[. . . .] (180)

The circumstances which led to the murder of 23 year-old Sean Bell on Saturday, 25 November, just outside Club Kalua in Jamaica Queens, New York, are superficially different than the Rodney King beating (3 March 1991) and the murder of Amadou Diallo (4 February 1999). For one, the latter instances of police brutality against lone, unarmed black men involved face-to-face confrontations, though Diallo was murdered with range weapons (guns) just as Bell. 1

What intrigues and terrifies me about these cases (Bell’s and King’s especially) is the idea that vulnerable (black) men can be (and have been) perceived by experienced law enforcement officers as threatening. In “50 Bullets, One Dead, and Many Questions,” William K. Rashbaum and Al Baker note

Mr. Bell, mortally wounded and not speaking, and Joseph Guzman, despite wounds from his head to his feet, were put in handcuffs after the gunfire ceased.

Police officers handcuffing a mortally wounded human being is a scene from the realm of psychoanalytic gothic. I’m thinking in particular of Freud’s “‘A Child is Being Beaten’,” wherein the observer of an act of violence becomes, first, the object of that violence and, subsequently, perpetrator of that violence.

The moment before Bell is handcuffed, his wounded body presents to his murderers a mirror of the violence it has received, capable of anything except continuing on. end of article

1 Another important difference is that some of the officers present at the scene of Bell’s murder were not white.
Works Cited
Foster, Thomas. The Souls of Cyberfolk: Posthumanism as Vernacular Theory. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota P, 2005.
Freud, Sigmund. “‘A child is being beaten’: A Contribution to the Study of the Origin of Sexual Perversions.” (1919) London: Hogarth Press 1975; SE 17:179-204.
Rashbaum, William K., and Al Baker. “50 Bullets, One Dead, and Many Questions." New York Times. 11 December 2006.