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books

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen

John Lucas and Claudia Rankine, Situation #6: Stop and Frisk, 2014, digital video, color, sound, 5 minutes 32 seconds. From the series “Situations,” 2006–.

Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2014. 160 pages.

THE SPLIT-SCREEN IMAGE from November 24, 2014, already seems iconic. On one side, the president speaks from the White House about law and restraint and progress. On the other, smoke rises from the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, as armed police officers face protesters with their hands up. When I saw that image, I turned off the news feed and began to reread Claudia Rankine’s new volume of poetry, Citizen: An American Lyric. I kept reading in the days following, when the failure to indict a police officer who shot to death an unarmed black teenager was followed by the failure to indict a police officer who choked to death an unarmed black man. That killing was captured on video. So was the shooting of a black twelve-year-old playing with a toy gun at a Cleveland park. As Rankine herself

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