Like much of what I write, fiction or poetry, “airtight alibi …” comes from both a real and true place. In this poem I deal with my own concerns about crime, race, stereotypes, and fear. While some view television news as being just that—the news, an opportunity to be informed about your immediate world—I’m often quite filled with dread. For most of my life, as an African- American woman, television news has often represented a troublesome and difficult representation of race and cultural relations, presented unbalanced conversations about crime, poverty, education, and the penal system, and perverted certain images so greatly that I’ve been compelled to have conversations with the black men in my life because of the proverbial “suspect on the loose.”
If nothing else, perhaps the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis crystalize what a lot of black women fear—that black males they care about won’t return home when the day is done and that whatever you said to each other that morning, afternoon, or evening will literally be the last words of a defined moment. I live in a city where “stop and frisk” was hailed as the most successful crime-fighting tool ever. Both my family members and students have been questioned for, simply, walking.
Artist renderings and composites of black male suspects have always worried me. As I see it, they are little more than finely sketched, black and white targets that are sent out into the world. Not being careful, considerate, or aware of the fact that the “bad man” does not represent all of the men from one specific people jeopardizes and endangers everyone.
Monique Ferrell is the author of two books of poetry, Unsteady (NYQ Books, 2011) and Black Body Parts (Cross+Roads Press, 2001). Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, and North American Review, among other journals. A collection of short fiction, Impetus, and a third poetry collection, Attraversiamo, are forthcoming.