On Sunday night at the Academy Awards, the writer of the Oscar-Winning Best Live Action Short Film “Two Different Strangers,” Travon Free, took aim at American police, saying, “Today, the police will kill three people. And tomorrow the police will kill three people. And the day after that the police will kill three people … and those people happen to be disproportionately black people.”
Accepting the award, Free stated, “Oh, God is so good. Today, the police will kill three people. And tomorrow the police will kill three people. And the day after that the police will kill three people because on average every day in America the police will kill three people, which amounts to about 1,000 people a year. And those people happen to be disproportionately black people. And, y’know, James Baldwin once said, ‘The most despicable thing a person can be is indifferent to other people’s pain.’ And so I just ask that you please not be indifferent, please, don’t be indifferent to our pain.”
The plot of “Two Different Strangers” features a black graphic designer, Carter James, who is caught in a time loop in which he awakens after a first date and leaves the woman’s bed to try to get home to his dog, but is repeatedly stopped by a white NYPD officer named Merk. At the end of every encounter, James winds up dead at the hands of police, then awakens in his date’s bed.
After 99 occurrences in the time loop, James approaches Merk and shows him evidence that they are caught in a time loop. He asks Merk to drive him home, but when they arrive Merk reveals he knows that they have been in a time loop, then shoots James in the back. Merk says, “See you tomorrow, kid.”
At the end of the film, after awakening in his date’s bed once again, James states, “Because it don’t matter how long it takes, or how many times it takes, one way or another, I’m getting home to my f***ing dog.”
In 2019 police officers fatally shot 1,004 people, most of whom were armed or otherwise dangerous. African-Americans were about a quarter of those killed by cops last year (235), a ratio that has remained stable since 2015. That share of black victims is less than what the black crime rate would predict, since police shootings are a function of how often officers encounter armed and violent suspects. In 2018, the latest year for which such data have been published, African-Americans made up 53% of known homicide offenders in the U.S. and commit about 60% of robberies, though they are 13% of the population.
The police fatally shot nine unarmed blacks and 19 unarmed whites in 2019, according to a Washington Post database, down from 38 and 32, respectively, in 2015. The Post defines “unarmed” broadly to include such cases as a suspect in Newark, N.J., who had a loaded handgun in his car during a police chase. In 2018 there were 7,407 black homicide victims. Assuming a comparable number of victims last year, those nine unarmed black victims of police shootings represent 0.1% of all African-Americans killed in 2019. By contrast, a police officer is 18½ times more likely to be killed by a black male than an unarmed black male is to be killed by a police officer.
Free has been called out in the past over anti-Semitic statements, including tweeting, “Got cut off in traffic by a Jew. WWHD? (what would Hitler do?),” “Happy 122nd birthday Hitler. It’s a good thing you’re not around to see how much you motivated the Jewish community to run everything,” and “All it takes is 3 Jewish guys to end the NFL lock out. Who would be better at collective bargaining than a group of jews?” As The Washington Times reported, Free later apologized for the remarks.