Saturday Night Live alum Jay Pharoah is the latest celebrity to speak out about police brutality. In an Instagram video released on Friday, the comedian detailed his experience being detained by police. His story was accompanied by security footage of the incident captured from a nearby store.
Pharoah was jogging on Ventura Blvd. and Corbin Ave. in Los Angeles when four officers flanked him with their guns drawn. He recalled being ordered to lay face down on the sidewalk before being placed in handcuffs, and how one cop placed a knee on his neck. After asking what was wrong, Pharoah says the officers told him he fit the description of a suspect in the area who was wearing grey sweatpants and a grey shirt. He was then released when police verified that he was not the man they were looking for.
“I could have easily been an Ahmaud Arbery or a George Floyd,” Pharoah said in the video.
Pharoah’s experience is horrifying and his message is powerful, but there are parts of this video that leave some to be desired. The opening montage of police hugging protestors against Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech comes across as misguided since a growing criticism of these images is that it trivializes the very real issue of police brutality. And the final sequence of Pharoah on the ground with a knee on his neck feels excessive given that his point was already made with his story. Pharoah also places the burden on Black men, specifically, to educate themselves about the law to protect against police brutality but does not call for any accountability for the police officers who use excessive force. And in focusing on Black men, he leaves out Black women, like Breonna Taylor, who are also targeted by police and whose stories are often overlooked. (The #SayHerName campaign was launched in 2014 to address this very issue.)
I applaud Pharoah for opening up and sharing this harrowing experience on a public platform. Every example of police brutality is essential in raising awareness and moving the needle forward so that real change is possible. Finding the correct response to the trauma he’s experienced is a lot of pressure to place on Pharoah, but in solidarity with the sentiment that all black lives matter, I think it’s also important to point out the parts of this video that fall short of that message.