Dave Chappelle Disarms with Education About Police Brutality
Updated: Jun 13
As the reality of police brutality comes forward and tensions rise as too many innocent black Americans are killed, it is a ray of shining light to recognize that change comes when we are educated, and Dave Chappelle is a master of the craft.
Kenny DeForest, a stand-up comedian and comedy writer, shared a fascinating story of a life-changing experience he had with Dave Chappelle on Twitter.
One night, Chappelle dropped by the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, NY when Will A. Miles, Clark Jones, and Kenny DeForest were still hosting. They were all in the back room, and Dave was in town to support Kevin Hart as he would be hosting Saturday Night Live.
Kenny DeForest texted Joyelle Johnson and asked, "Is there any chance Dave wants to go up?" Clearly this was a huge moment, as the opportunity of seeing Chappelle do stand-up is always a moment to remember.
But this would be one that would change the crowd forever.
They started the show thinking Chappelle may come, but it was still not confirmed. After a couple of comics performed, Chappelle sneaks in "like a boxer with his hood up." As the legendary comedian took the stage, the other comedians are in the green room smoking, drinking, and joking as they acknowledge the brilliance of the man on stage and what he has done for comedy.
Dave Chappelle goes on to cover every topic of the time. He was asking for headlines to riff on and joke about, and each passing topic thrown his way, he immediately had a perfect joke that had the crowd roaring.
Now, for context, this show was days after Daniel Pantaleo, a Staten Island police officer, choked Eric Garner to death and was not indicted by a grand jury.
Protests were all over the city, and tensions were beyond high. After about 20 minutes into his set, he asks for another topic and someone shouts, "POLICE BRUTALITY!"
Dave Chappelle pauses and asks, "Do you really wanna do this? Okay."
The crowd at the Knitting Factory is always beautifully mixed. At the time, the show started with Hannibal Buress, so there was always a black base. But it is also in Williamsburg, so there were hipsters of all persuasions. And amazingly, people from around the world would visit just to experience the historic site and strong lineup of comedians.
Chappelle begins talking about Eric Garner, watching him get murdered in cold blood, and how it makes him scared for his children. He said, "I thought body cams would help, but what good is video evidence if ya'll don't care?"
A white woman with a wide-brim hat in the crowd shouts out, "Life's hard! Sorry 'bout it."
This takes the air completely out of the room. Kenny DeForest says that it was "a collective gasp".
Chappelle zeroes in on her and asks, "What did you say?" So she repeats herself, "Life's hard! Sorry 'bout that."
This is where Chappelle changes the script from a comedy show to a life lesson. He starts educating the crowd on the history of black people and the police. He talked about slave patrols, Rodney King, Watts, Emmett Till, and Black Wall Street. He then went on to Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and he went into detail about John Crawford III.
If you are unfamiliar with John Crawford III, it was another unnecessary killing that happened around the same time as some other high profile ones, but it is as awful as anything else you will see. He was on the phone inside of a Walmart and picked up a BB gun that was on sale inside the store. Some scared white man named Ronald Ritchie called 911, claiming that Crawford had aimed the gun at several customers. A cop named Sean Williams simply approaches the young man and guns him down. There is no verbal exchange and no warning at all. The security footage make it plain as day. This was a disgusting murder and inconceivable.
Dave Chappelle then goes on to share about his own story of getting pulled over in rural Ohio where he currently lives. He mentioned that this was after the Ferguson unrest, so racial tension was bubbling. He said, "I may be white on paper, but I'm still black. So I'm nervous."
He said the cop approaches, and the cop can tell he is scared. Chappelle has both of his hands on the steering wheel, and he says, "Officer, my license and registration are in the glove box. I'm going to reach for them now. I promise I'm not armed." He could tell the cop was offended by his nervousness, so the cop simply said, "I know who you are, Dave Chappelle." He gets off with a warning, but there is a dark twist.
That cop was Sean Williams, the one who would go on to murder John Crawford III.
Chappelle reflected and said, "I shouldn't have to be Dave Chappelle to survive police encounters."
He goes on to explain that one of his best friends is South African. He said, "I asked him what it was like in South Africa right before apartheid ended, and he said it was chaos in the streets. There were riots and car bombs, but the amount of people caring hit critical mass and there was nothing they could do to stop it. The people had momentum and apartheid ended. Critical mass. That's what we have to hit. Once enough of you care, there will be nothing they can do to stop the change."
This powerful moment silenced the crowd and left them in a somber state.
After the show, everyone was in the green room. Joyelle Johnson comes back and says, "That dumbass white girl wanted to talk to you, but I told her you were busy." Chappelle says, "No! Bring her back." So Joyelle leaves and comes back with the wide-brim hat woman and her friend. They are both humiliated, and the hat woman says, "I just wanted to say I'm sorry for what I said, and thank you for educating me. I was ignorant before, but I want you to know that I learned from you tonight and I won't say things like that anymore."
Chappelle responds, "You're okay. That's all we can ask. Know better, do better. I want to thank you for hearing me and listening. That's your role. And now you know. Now, you're part of that critical mass we talked about, and next time you hear a friend say some ignorant shit like you said, it's your job to correct them and share with them what you learned tonight. Then you are not longer part of the problem. You're part of the solution."
The woman starts crying and Chappelle pulls her in for a hug. "It's okay. You're part of the solution now. Do you want a picture?"
She says, "Really?!"
He says, "Of course! Friend, get over here for a picture."
The woman's friend approaches, they all take photos, he hugs them both, and he reiterates that it is okay and just be part of the solution as he sends them on their way.
Kenny DeForest said, "He changed everyone in that room that night. Over 200 people became part of the solution if they weren't already. Even a privileged girl in a privileged hat with a privileged mindset. The point is, it doesn't matter what you thought before. You can always change, and you can always become a part of the critical mass trying to push this shit forward. All you have to do is care and allow that care to become education and action."
Although this exchange happened in 2015, its message and power are needed today more than ever. We have to be a part of the critical mass to end this systemic problem and show that we care about our black brothers and sisters by standing beside them in this crucial fight.
Stand with me and shout that #BlackLivesMatter and let's end this together.