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There’s a saying in policing, “The first bullet is the one your career, your family and your freedom ride on.” That first round is significant because that is what the court will use to judge the application of the force continuum. There are no shades of grey. The officer is innocent or guilty. However, and officer’s innocence or guilt is not the same as yours or mine. Typically, for a police officer, innocence and guilt only affect the size of their pension. Either way they will receive many taxpayer funded hours of therapy for their emotional duress. The premise of the police department is that a person of sound mind could not fire a gun at another human being without experiencing trauma. Unfortunately, by their own definition, most police officers are not in possession of a sound mind. Otherwise the second half of that saying would not exist, “After the first bullet, the rest are free.”

Jonny Gammage’s murder is a true story. He was driving a Jaguar on State Route 51. He was pulled over for driving erratically. The officer did call for backup and within seven minutes Gammage was outside of his car lying dead on the pavement. The officers were white and Jon Gammage was black. The Gammage Project exhumes evidence of police brutality nearly two decades old. It tells this version of the story through it’s more than 35 characters from classroom to courtroom. The Heymann Theatre was just too small to contain this work. When Gammage’s coffin was being wheeled out I winced when the actors knocked it against the railing lining the narrow walkway between the stage and audience. I enjoy when a character speaking directly to the audience rearranges the set in preparation for the next scene. Though, I felt the Heymann forced the actors to do this too many times. The frequent changes in setting slow down during the second half of the play but take away from it’s first impression. The Joker, Rico Romalus Parker, was a great idea for a character. He was a suitable bridge between a curious white audience and a breathless black audience. Leave your white guilt at the door, The Joker will pile on more than you can bear. I favored most the subtle role of Gammage, Correy Talley. Just like the nonfiction version Gammage is the central figure but his story is told through everyone else involved. I would have been disappointed if Gammage’s character had a larger role. It would have taken away from the play’s credibility if Jonny walked on stage and pointed guilty fingers at the police who killed him.

The Gammage Project takes some circumstantial liberty. The choreographed fight scene between police and Gammage is contrived and no truly accurate depiction exists on record. It’s no challenge to sensationalize white police officers brutalizing a young black man, even with those who are of sound mind. Though, even if the officers are bigots, racists or sadists the action alone speaks loud enough to make it’s point. While it certainly wasn’t overdone the officers who killed Gammage were insidious, not brutes. If they had been played that way it would have been much easier to blame them for the despicable actions they took on October 12, 1995.


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