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The Heroic Defiance of "Bedroom Intruder"
Back in 2010, music producers the Gregory Brothers remixed a television-news interview of a Huntsville, Alabama, man who was upset that his sister Kelly had recently been attacked in their housing project. The brothers set the interview to a flowy R&B beat, and an urban antihero was born. The remix featured the man, Antoine Dodson, defiantly addressing the attacker, confident that he would soon be caught, openly derisive that the attacker would dare assault a member of the Dodson clan. The remix was called “Bedroom Intruder,” and it hit the Hot 100.
But what was perhaps more jarring than Dodson’s indignance and lust for revenge was his impromptu invocation of an allegiance with local law-enforcement. “Bedroom Intruder” is not the story of a male member of the Dodsons on a lone search for justice. In the interview, Dodson taunts the attacker with the bold assumption that the full force and power of the Huntsville Police Department was soon going to be marshalled behind him to bring Kelly’s attacker to justice.
This was a switch. In the history of urban pleas for justice, aligning yourself with the police has typically been seen to be a poor choice by most residents of low-income housing. More often than not, the police just caused more damage than they were there to resolve. There is also the perception amongst people in minority-dominated low-income housing projects that the police do not see themselves as their protectors, but rather as the protectors of the “rest” of society from people in the projects. This was certainly the position taken by 1960s grassroots urban-community organizations like Maryland’s Cambridge Movement, Oakland’s Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, and Los Angeles’ Brown Berets. Defense organizations like this were founded largely to serve as counterpoints to the way the modern police forces often neglected to either protect or serve the minority community very well.
For most of the 18th century, urban police forces were ragtag volunteer squads with few standardized practices. Many American urban police forces became professional organizations by the 19th century, most basing their systems off of European urban-deterrence theory and the institutionalization of old Southern slave patrols. By World War II’s Great Migration of African Americans to America’s North and Midwest, many forces felt pressured to update their methods in order to deal with the discomfort white residents felt (or were told they should feel) about the influx of black Americans into “their” cities. According to Donna Murch’s book Living for the
City, there was a further push for modernization amongst the nation’s law
enforcement in the 1960s, “characterized by modern equipment, formalized
systems, and greater emphasis on juvenile detention.” During this time, people
like Oakland’s police chief “overhauled hiring practices in favor of better-
educated, more affluent candidates”—in other words, candidates who were less
likely to spend time in the low-income neighborhoods in which they would be
working. And while this might be good in terms of having better-educated
policemen, it is difficult to tell whether those hiring practices included making sure
that officers cultivated any sympathy for the experiences of the people with which they dealt. Indeed, according to Murch, “these policies created an almost exclusively white middle class force that resided outside the city and had little understanding or connection to the populations they served,” which “handicapped intelligence capabilities,” and “the law between service and surveillance soon collapsed.”
Many of America’s early police forces were composed almost entirely of white men, often recent European immigrants who had only recently begun to consider themselves “white.” For most Irish, Italians, Poles, and Germans, calling yourself “white” and joining the police force was one of the surest and quickest paths to social acceptance in America. And the steady migration north of black folk looking for a better life was also the beginning of the association of black neighborhoods with criminality. In his book Condemnation of Blackness, Khalil Muhammad details how police forces began policing minority communities more stringently as the numbers of black migrants from the South increased. Cops began to harass black citizens more, arrest them more, and judges convicted them at higher rates. This led to rising crime statistics, which led to the justification for even more stringent policing measures, perpetuating a vicious cycle from which America has never extricated itself.
And there was plenty of reason to believe that the Huntsville PD might not put the full measure of their power into finding Kelly’s attacker. If America’s law-enforcement community has traditionally had a fraught relationship with the low-income black community, its relationship with black women has been similarly brittle. Black women have largely been seen as either sexual
victims or sexual objects by the police, according to historian Danielle McGuire in
her book At the Dark End of the Street. At one point, McGuire looks at the case of
the Martinsville Seven, seven black men who were rounded up and arrested after a
white woman, Ruby Floyd, claimed that she had been raped by all seven. They
were accused, tried, and convicted within a month. A few months later, the black
newspaper the Pittsburgh Courier highlighted the fact that in another case of a
blackwoman being raped by two white police officers in Richmond, Virginia, the two
white officers were also found guilty of the same crime. But where the seven black men were sentenced to death (and would all be executed two years later), the two white officers were sentenced to seven years each. According to McGuire, “the paltry sentence reminded black women that society did not consider them worthy of the same protection afforded white women.”
The reason why “Bedroom Intruder” is so jarring is not because of the real-man Dodson or the television interview, but because the character presented in the song is such a spectacular twist on the urban-trickster pathology. The urban trickster is a sociological technique that is deployed by minorities in urban settings as a way of coping with the systems aligned against them. We would all like to be always-honest and aboveboard, but sometimes the urban trickster decides to use slickness and deception to make up for all the odds stacked against them. Most urban-trickster archetypes are decidedly anti-authority, if not outright anti-police, such as Superfly, Stagger Lee, and Dolemite. In the world of “Bedroom Intruder,” we will call our antihero “B.I. Dodson.” B.I. Dodson is distinguished from the real-life Antoine Dodson in two very important ways: One, I do not know anything firsthand about Antoine Dodson’s life, but all I need to know about B.I. Dodson is in the song. And two, before “Bedroom Intruder” is over, the urban antihero B.I. Dodson will have performed Three Acts of Heroic Defiance.
B.I. Dodson’s Second Act of Heroic Defiance was outsmarting the police by joining them, and by joining them at the very same time that they were conducting their investigation. And here B.I. Dodson, a gay-presenting black man, is aligning himself with an organization that has been openly hostile towards both minority groups that he represents—blacks and gays. The homosexual community has long been the butt of police department humor—“homocide” being the most egregious and well-known cop joke, told whenever they are sent on domestic disturbance calls in predominantly gay neighborhoods. In addition, gay bars had long been seen as targets for sadistic cops to deploy their abuse on a populace desperate for anonymity. Raiding gay bars was done not so much for any legal preventative measures, but mostly for the pleasure some men derived by humiliating others. The reason the 1970 Stonewall Rebellion caused such shockwaves was that, for the first time in America, the patrons of a gay bar that had been raided banded together and fought back against the harassment.
But what could law-enforcement authorities counter to Dodson’s call for alliance? No extralegal assaults against the rights of blacks or gays have ever been a part of official department policy. They have just been open secrets. On the contrary, all state and federal law-enforcement authorities have sworn to uphold the rights of all citizens equally for at least the past one hundred years. There is certainly no police officer alive today who did not swear an oath to protect all people no matter their race, color, or creed. And so, by the letter of the law, B.I. Dodson had sort of backed the Huntsville PD into a corner. While defiantly presenting his twice-oppressed intersectionality, he publicly partnered with his local peace officers before they even had a chance to neglect his interests:
You don’t have to come and confess,
We’re looking for you
We’re gonna find you, we’re gonna find you
First of all, check out B.I. Dodson’s seizing control of police procedure. There might have been seargents in the Huntsville area who would have preferred the Intruder turn himself in. But B.I. Dodson was like, “Nah.” There was no need. According to B.I. Dodson, the detectives at the department were so skilled that it was just a matter of time. Second of all, We? Was B.I. Dodson really intending to interview witnesses, follow leads, go on stakeouts? It sure sounds like it, but I doubt it. More like, B.I. Dodson had so much confidence in law enforcement that he was fully buying into their commitment to be agents of the public good, doing the work that B.I. Dodson himself would have done had he been trained in forensics or investigative techniques.
So you can run and tell that, homeboy
B.I. Dodson is so confident that the Intruder will be caught that he is here telling the Intruder that he had best get his affairs in order. First, B.I. Dodson is saying, you should admit to yourself that you will soon be caught. Abandon all hope that the police will falter in their investigation, it is not going to happen. Next, if you were smart, you would start informing friends and loved ones that you were about to go away for a long time. Maybe do not go to the street corner and announce it, but just get your people used to the idea of your absence.
We got your T-shirt and your fingerprints and all
You are so dumb
You are really dumb, for real
You are really really really really so dumb
Do you not remember that you left your T-shirt here? Have you not ever watched any of those television detective shows? They can find out who you are by those things. And did you not even think to wear gloves? Everyone knows about gloves. You are not smart, Bedroom Intruder, and that is why our local law-enforcement authorities and I, together, are going to find you. You should really consider this. You are not smart, Intruder. I could not be more confident about your lack of intelligence.
I was attacked by some idiot in the projects.
My sister agrees. You should not have even tried something like this. Your lack of intelligence will be your undoing.
5’9’ or 5’10” coffee complexion, low-cut like a Caesar, clean-cut, very smooth face
Here B.I. Dodson has already begun the investigation. He has invested himself with the authority to go ahead and give out the details of the suspect to the public, so that if anyone has seen the Intruder they can call B.I. Dodson himself. Or the police. Whichever.
When I walked in, he had his hands around her neck.
First thing was to pull him off of her, and that’s what I did
And here is the crux of the story. Because here B.I. Dodson is doing what any brother, what any person, would do when they saw a female being attacked. And this is a necessary intervention because nobody would have to tell Dodson about the preponderance of violence against black women this nation has seen. If Dodson had any lived experience in primarily black spaces, he would not have been surprised at seeing his sister victimized so. And his inherent bravery is captured in the few moments after he sees the attacker. He knew that before you did anything else, you had to prevent the immediate harm that was taking place. Here he again proves that he should not only partner with, but perhaps even lead police in this investigation. Just in that moment, B.I. Dodson performed his First Act of Heroic Defiance, putting himself in harm’s way in defense of the helpless.
B.I. Dodson’s Third Act of Heroic Defiance is voiced in the last two lines of the song. It is a primal scream of protest; the long-gathered wail of the African American experience, borne and bred from years of unreasonable aggression and violence. In the Dodson clan, in the black family, you need to know that this song’s cry for justice was not a plea for sympathy. A cry of exhaustion, yes. A cry of frustration, yes. You can think anything, but don’t think that we are asking for sympathy. We long ago learned that whining about our hardships could fall on deaf ears, along with snarls of What did you expect, darkie?
It does no good to ask someone to really see and feel Kelly’s pain. In the real world, there was some question as to whether the real Kelly Dodson knew the attacker or not, but that does not matter. Her fear in the moment was real, especially from the perspective of her bother. And this brother and sister were going—the black community was going—to do whatever we needed to do to survive. So please do not pity us.
My family, we don’t run around crying and actin’ sad
because this is in fact one of the many trials and tribulations that we have endured. But we have endured them, and we know that. And that in itself is the victory. That in itself is the grace of God. We are blessed because we are still here. Because we have had yet another day bestowed upon us by the sweet breath of life. And because many of us no longer have. And so the ones that can, live. And when our lives are threatened, God help us find safe spaces to tell the last generation’s story. We live for them. We live in their honor. We live the lives they might have lived. We do not have time to wallow in the mire, there is more to see and more to do and, no, we do not know when will be our last day on this Earth and so
We just dust our trousers off and keep on movin.'
The song of the black soul.
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I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from UCLA, a Master of Arts in History from Cal State University--Los Angeles, and a Doctor of Philosophy in African Diaspora History from Indiana University. I spent nine years as a public school teacher first in East New York, Brooklyn, and then in South and East Los Angeles.
My dissertation topic was on slave resistance, as well as the construction of race. Although I am considered a resistance scholar, I am primarily interested in creating community dedicated to effecting global change through the promotion of justice and freedom for all living things. So I consider myself a "freedom scholar."
I am originally from Queens, New York, but I currently reside in Jacksonville, Florida, where I am the Assistant Professor of History at Edward Waters College, Florida's first HBCU.
Profile Pic: Kate Hallock
All other photos by: Ronnda Cargile Jamison
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