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Arts & Culture
Culture Couch is WYSO's occasional series exploring the arts and culture scene in our community. It’s stories about creativity – told through creative audio storytelling.

New Play Explores The Police Killing of John Crawford III And Community Accountability

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Photo courtesy of Lauren Shows, Yellow Springs News
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Left to Right: Bomani Moyenda, Avesha Clarke, John Fleming, Elias Kelley

This week Central State University presents a play that rewrites recent history. Local poet and activist Bomani Moyenda has written his first play, “What’s Done in the Dark.” The play creates a fictionalized case based on the police killing of John Crawford III and a community’s struggle for accountability.

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Kathleen Galarza
"What's Done in the Dark" is poet and activist Bomani Moyenda's first play.

In the summer of 2014, John Crawford was walking the aisles in the Beavercreek Walmart and saw a BB gun for sale. He picked it up. Another customer called 911. The police came and killed Crawford within seconds. After Crawford’s death, Bomani Moyenda helped organize weekly vigils. More than 200 people staged a die-in at the Walmart on Christmas Eve that year, shutting down the store and bringing police cars from all over. Then Moyenda met Crawford’s father at one of the vigils.

Moyenda remembers, “It was freezing bitter cold, like, and he just stood out there and talked to us for about 20-30 minutes. And just seeing the agony, you know, in his face and voice, I decided I was going to do like whatever I could, you know, to kind of bring some kind of justice.”

It’s been five years. Moyenda still works to keep the facts of the case in the public’s eye. When he saw the call for the ten-minute play festival in Yellow Springs, he wanted to dramatize the role of the state attorney general and prosecutor in the case.

Moyenda has seen no reason to trust the justice system when it comes to indicting police who have killed innocent Black people. “It’s almost like they’re using this playbook,” Moyenda observes. “They just, like, pass it around and say here use this, like, this is how we do it. This is how we avoid accountability in these cases.” Moyenda says people have to learn how things work behind the scenes, as in this dialogue from his play between State Attorney General Wiley Desmond and Wilbycrook Police Chief Francis Conner.

Desmond: Listen, Francis, I’m running for re-election this year, you got that?
Connor: Uh, yes, sir.
Desmond: So, listen up and repeat after me. There is no such thing as an innocent Black kid.
Connor: Uh, uh, but sir…
Desmond: Say it, say it like you mean it. You know who my voters are!
Connor: There is no such thing as an innocent Black kid, sir!

Once Moyenda had a draft of the ten-minute play. shared it with John Fleming, theater arts director at Central State University. Fleming wanted to produce the play at Central State, and so began a year-long collaboration. Fleming looked for ways to expand the play. To do that, Fleming asked, “What’s going to break this open as a story but also take it to an unexpected kind of place all of a sudden, a place that’s kind of like eminently theatrical.”

So Fleming and Moyenda created otherworldly characters that take stage alongside the legal drama, as in this monologue:

I’m Breonna. I’ve heard so many of you tell me to rest in peace, but remember that’s what I was doing the night they shot me. I was lying in my own bed when I felt bullets bursting into my body. You say rest in peace, but my soul is rest-less. I can’t move on, but I can’t die either. I just drift here in this lonely murky space, wishing I could soothe my weeping, worrying mother who wonders every day why her baby died in her sleep.

Fleming believes these characters from the dead have a spiritual longing. He says, “They want, you know, the completion in their bodies, where the holes are in their bodies. They do want justice, but they also want to be repaired before they can move on.”

Moyenda, however, believes these characters serve another purpose for the audience. He asks, “What if these people had something to say about the way they died and how things were handled, you know, after that?” I wanted to give them back some of their humanity that was taken from them not just from them being killed but the attack on their character.”

In the end, “What’s Done in the Dark” offers a kind of divine justice for Black victims of lethal police force. In the course of developing his play, Moyenda “decided to find some kind of way to express some sense of hope, that maybe at some point [laughs] there’s a way out of this, you know?”

“What’s Done in the Dark” will be performed in person at Central State’s Robeson theater and live-streamed this Friday and Saturday at 7:30. To view the live streaming of the performances, go to facebook.com/CentralState87 or YouTube.com/CentralState87.