“There are too many police in America”- Danny Lyon

The photographer and veteran civil-rights campaigner offers his take on the recent spate of US police shootings
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The Police, Clarksdale, Mississippi 1962 - Danny Lyon from The Seventh Dog
The Police, Clarksdale, Mississippi 1962 - Danny Lyon from The Seventh Dog

Danny Lyon’s photographic career is inextricably linked with his work as a campaigner and political radical. Serving as an active photographer within the Southern Civil Rights Movement during the early 1960s, he was imprisoned briefly in the same jail as Dr Martin Luther King. Since then, he has documented America's outlaw biker gangs, the marginal communities of lower Manhattan, inmates within the US prison system, and the Occupy Movement.

Lyon continues to write and post images on his politically engaged site, Bleak Beauty, where he originally published this take on the recent US police shootings. Read on to discover why this civil-rights veteran believes the problems within American society have migrated from the country’s civilian population into its police force.

 

Occupy demonstrators on Broadway, Los Angeles - Danny Lyon from The Seventh Dog
Occupy demonstrators on Broadway, Los Angeles - Danny Lyon from The Seventh Dog

“The shooting of Mr. Walter Scott, a fifty-year-old coast guard veteran, father and Born Again Christian, by an on-duty officer of the law in Summerville, South Carolina fills us with horror and shame. It’s as if the dark side of America, the cancer that supported the enslavement of Africans, that raped American Indians and murdered them wholesale in their villages, that killed the women and children in Mai Lai, has re-emerged in an unstoppable series of police shootings across the country.

 

Cal, Elkhorn, Wisconsin, c. 1965-66 from The Bikeriders by Danny Lyon
Cal, Elkhorn, Wisconsin, c. 1965-66 from The Bikeriders by Danny Lyon

“Here in [Lyon's home town] Albuquerque, the 58th largest city in the country, forty people were shot to death by various forms of law enforcement in a very short period of time. One of these police crimes, the shooting of James Boyd, homeless person trying to camp on what is essentially the empty side of Sandia Mountain, was committed by two officers of the Albuquerque Police Department; the officers wore video cameras, and so recorded the incident. Kari Brandenburg, a Bernalillo County DA, had the courage to charge both men with murder, demanding full transparency in the trial, something almost unprecedented in other cities. A few days ago, after an abusive campaign by APD, she was removed from the case by a local judge, meaning even in Albuquerque, a city under a Justice Department order to stop this behavior, resistance to putting police on trial, is so strong as to be virtually impossible to carry out. The two officers are still under a murder charge.

 

Danny Lyon and Muhammad Ali, April 1970
Danny Lyon and Muhammad Ali, April 1970

“Once, before I was born, public lynching and torture of mostly African Americans occurred quite often, but not exclusively, in the South. It is this deeply sick, violent racism that has returned, percolating out from the dark American hell that nurtures it, and because this violent racism is successfully repressed in ‘civilians’ (thank God), it has emerged now from the gun barrels of law enforcement, the only Americans who can legally kill Americans civilians.

“There are way too many police in America. In south Albuquerque there are seven separate law enforcement agencies operating in the same neighborhood. And the police need to be disarmed. They have too much equipment, as if they were an army and America was an occupied country. 

 

The arrest of Eddie Brown, a former gang leader, in Albany, Georgia 1962. The first arrest Lyon witnessed in the south - Danny Lyon from The Seventh Dog
The arrest of Eddie Brown, a former gang leader, in Albany, Georgia 1962. The first arrest Lyon witnessed in the south - Danny Lyon from The Seventh Dog

“Finally, there needs to be national campaign to end this. Not a campaign led by African Americans but a campaign led by the office of the President of the United States, Congress and influential people in all areas of the media including entertainment and the church, all churches. And if we don’t get this done, beware. Someday the law might stop you and as you reach into your glove compartment for your auto insurance papers, or you forgot to take your meds that day, you too might get a bullet in the head.”

For more, go here, and for greater insight into Lyon’s life and work, get a copy of his monograph, The Seventh Dog here.


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