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  • Writer's picturePeter Dayton

4.27.21 - Spring Updates

Dear Friends,

Another week in America. More hardship and heartache even as vaccine rollout (mostly restricted to white and European countries) continues to boost hopes of reducing COVID spread and death. With Derek Chauvin's conviction of murdering George Floyd coming down within minutes of police officers in Ohio shooting Ma'Khia Bryant to death, we see how little a dent is made in the system of racialized police violence in America by a single conviction. It is not a question of rogue actors or no-true-scotsmanism, it is the system working by design. As is the immediate reflexive 'de-habilitation' that is happening in the wake of Ma'Khia Bryant's shooting. In discussions about the knife-wielding circumstances immediately prior to Ma'Khia's death and about why certain individuals like Ma'Khia become the banner names of the police abolition movement, I've heard lethal force trainer Clint Smith's notorious 60 minutes interview quote invoked: "Some people just need to be shot" (he's so proud of it you can buy it as a sticker on his website).

While I disagree with it as a premise for a just society, I think that is a valid description of the normalization and acceptance of state-sanctioned violence manifested through the modern, militarized American police force. I draw from that, and from the question about the legitimacy of canonizing any particular black person killed by police, be they Ma'Khia or Freddie Gray or Sandra Bland, that the question being asked here “when is it okay for the police to shoot a black person? In this circumstance? In that circumstance?” which is a question raised with the same inevitability of the next police-caused black death. Even when the circumstances leading up to the black victim’s death aren’t as ambiguous as Ma'Khia Bryant’s, there are public relations attempts to de-habilitate the dead. To retcon the black person’s from their background or history to somehow justify police killing them: “he was no saint,” “he had a criminal record,” “he had a history of drug use,” as if any of these things justify summary, violent execution without due process. The question is always: “when can we shoot black people” rather than “do we actually think that perpetual state-sanctioned violence will lead to less crime and suffering in our society?” Sometimes in these sorts of arguments, people flash numbers about how the police kill plenty of white people too, as if that point makes the police look any more a part of the solution than the problem.

“Some people just need to be shot.” I would use that statement as an assessment of our current circumstances. It is the white moral shrug that does not question the conditions that lead to crime, violent or otherwise, and instead views the violence with which crime, however petty or extreme, is targeted and responded to as an adequate exchange for comfort and stability. That comfort and stability is limited to those whose wealth, access, and privilege usually set them above the law and its enforcement in any meaningful sense (certainly not through the kind of violent enforcement that has normalized immediate execution as the penalty for a black person not immediately complying with police, or even if they do comply, or if they are simply helping an autistic child in the street) but it is a comfort and stability nonetheless.

The movement to abolish the police is not about some kind of free-reign lawless chaos, but about spotlighting the role of the police within the network of systemic racism and oppression that works to prevent black/brown/indigenous/non-white self-determination and self-fulfillment and profits by it, from the role as slave patrols that police served in early American history to the impunity with which the police kill today; spotlighting that role and demanding that it be terminated. Do some people just need to be shot, or we need to robustly fund public education, invest in community centers and initiatives, increase access to healthcare, make college financially accessible, create job training opportunities, invest in infrastructure and public transportation, increase access to birth control and modernize sex education, invest in affordable, multi-unit housing, prioritize mental health? Is our most pressing need to whack-a-mole respond to crime, or to remove the origins of crime in poverty, illness, and suffering that make our militarized law enforcement seem so necessary to those so removed from that material and psychological suffering?

I once heard someone answer the exasperated question: “so is EVERYTHING about race” with “Yes. That’s why it’s called systemic racism.” It is about the way our society is built as much as it is about the individual actions of any member of our society. It is about redlining, education defunding, gentrification, defunding of public services and transportation, over-policing and prosecution of black petty drug offenses and leniency on white drug offenses, workplace discrimination, housing discrimination, loan discrimination, discrimination in access to higher education, all which have happened and some which continue to happen not just on an anecdotal level, but on policy levels, systems levels, societal norms levels. And these choices have a ‘splash damage’ effect on plenty of white people, too, but these are acceptable losses within our current system, with a share of the violent response to systemically-avoidable crime and suffering apportioned to them too. Crime’s main causes are poverty, lack of education, and mental illness (which are exacerbated in a society that makes wealth a precondition to decent healthcare). In a system that intentionally creates poverty, lack of education, and mental illness for black people and accepts violent symptom-response rather than treatment of criminal underlying conditions, the consequence writes itself: “some people just need to be shot” and many, many of those people are black.

So, the same day as Derek Chauvin was determined George Floyd’s murderer by our system of due process, Ma'Khia Bryant was gunned down as she swung a knife around at another person – with circumstances unclear. I don’t think the question of victim canonization is a relevant one. I think dwelling upon the question of why Ma'Khia Bryant deserves a special status based upon the circumstances of her death is an avoidance of the question that the movement of police abolition is asking: Is the only way we can imagine peace-keeping in our society through violence? Why do we find it acceptable to live in a world where “some people just need to be shot”? where Ma'Khia Bryant’s life, George Floyd’s life, Charles Kinsey’s life, each ended the way they did?



  • Lost Daughter Persephone Song Cycle finished!

  • Colleague Spotlight: Support VOCE

  • Wide Open Spaces: Open for Collaborations

  • A Summer of Song: Vocal Album Plans Underway


Lost Daughter Persephone Song Cycle finished!

After nearly a year (with some down-time and delays), I'm proud to be able to share that I have completed my cycle of songs for soprano, flute, viola, and harp for brilliant Hong Kong-based soprano Jessica Ng. Lost Daughter: Songs on the Myth of Persephone is a 5-movement work (runtime approx. 24 minutes) using texts by Oscar Wilde, Rita Dove, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Alfred Lord Tennyson (text reworked by me), and Louise Glück in a meditation on grief, loss, and maternal love. While not creating a one-to-one correspondence between the movements and the five stages of grief, the piece's texts and moods span the emotional gamut of coming to terms with loss. I am so very grateful to Jessica for entrusting me with this project, and am deeply indebted to Amy Nam and Garrett Groesbeck for their necessary harp assistance.

The whole 60-something page score of Lost for Daughter from a 'ground-view'

I hope that it's as an exciting challenge for Jessica to learn as it was for me to compose and I can't wait to hear her take ownership of it!


Colleague Spotlight: Support VOCE

VOCE (Virtual Opera Collective Experiment) is committed to delivering performances during and after the COVID-19 pandemic in a safe way for both the artists and the audience to enjoy, focusing on increasing virtual music production quality in order for audience and performers. Please consider donating to VOCE to support the amazing working artists who are continuing to find innovations in a world that endlessly consumes the arts but can never seem to find the money to support those who make it.


Wide Open Spaces: Open for Collaborations

With the the completion of two major projects, Grounds, Retraced and Lost Daughter, I find myself, nearly inexplicably, "all caught up" and with no immediate plans for new pieces. Sometimes it's good to let the mind lie fallow, but it's also good to have something to look forward to and idly dream around. So to all the music-makers in my network, if you have ideas about working together or need a new piece for a concert or recital, let me know! I'm all ears (and staff-paper)!


A Summer of Song: Vocal Album Plan Underway

This summer I'll pick up the vocal album recording plans that were postponed from last summer - with the bonus (and additional scheduling headaches) of including more works that I've written during this past year. Stay tuned for updates in July and August about recording sessions. To the 20(!) amazing musicians who have signed on to this project, I look forward to making acoustic, in-person music with you again, soon!


I'm so looking forward to May 17th, when both Doug and I will be vaccinated and two weeks out from our shots. So many people whom I'm looking forward to seeing, first and foremost my family! But also more music, music that I have been nurturing for more than a year, bringing it to life in sound and through those wonderful friendships that have survived so far and will continue to flourish. Keep safe, masked and get vaccinated!


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