‘Artists against Police Brutality’ draws on humanity of victims

     Left: Cover art for

    Left: Cover art for "APB: Artists against Police Brutality." Right: 'Family Portrait' by Ashley Woods depicts victims of police violence. Top row: John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Cary Ball Jr. Bottom row: Tanisha Anderson, Miriam Carey, Yvette Smith, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones

    The horrific tales of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland have been seared into the public consciousness by social media and fueled a seething outrage in the African-American community. It was this madness that caused Bill Campbell to make a statement against this injustice with APB: Artists against Police Brutality, a comic book anthology focusing on civil rights and inequality within the justice system.

    It’s becoming a necessary part of my daily breakfast ritual. Alarm goes off. Hit the snooze button, twice. Turn on the local news — volume on 25 — while sleepwalking into the bathroom. Brush the dragon from my mouth while listening to the morning rundown. Weather: sunny and humid — check. Traffic: backed up, but not on my way to work — check. Police brutality: another case in Wherever, Ohio; no ruling on the case in That Town, Mississippi — check.

    The horrific tales and images of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland have been seared into the public consciousness by social media and fueled a seething outrage in the African-American community. It was this madness that caused Bill Campbell, author of “Sunshine Patriots” and creator of Rosarium Publishing, to make a statement against this injustice with “APB: Artists against Police Brutality,” a comic book anthology focusing on civil rights and inequality within the justice system.

    A call to arms within the black art community has garnered amazing contributions from award-winning creators such as John Jennings and Ashley Woods, each with a story rich in poignancy. Each artist’s personal investment is felt in every pen stroke.

    Campbell, who edited the book, relates the origins of the project.

    What’s the mission statement of APB?

    Well, APB was born out of a moment of anger. It was the night of the Staten Island grand jury handing down the decision not to try the cops who killed Eric Garner. I was so “outraged” (I guess you can say), that I realized that I just had to do something. Since I’m a publisher, APB seemed like the best thing I could do at the time.

    So, I wouldn’t necessarily say there was some grand “mission statement,” as such, other than: Sometimes you’ve got to speak out in honor of those people whose voices have been silenced.

    When the call went out for submissions, what was the response like?

    Tricky. With (previous Rosarium compilations) “Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond” and “Stories for Chip,” I just asked as many people as I could think of if they’d like to submit.

    But police brutality is probably the realest thing we’re dealing with right now, and emotions are incredibly volatile on all sides of the issue. So, I was fairly hesitant to ask a lot of folks, because I just didn’t know how people felt about it.

    Also, you didn’t know if people would feel comfortable contributing to something like this, even if they were sympathetic. Vague concepts like “freedom of speech” are easy to get behind. There’s nothing vague, or esoteric — or even “feel good” — about police brutality.

    What separates this compilation from others united around a theme or social cause?

    I would say the immediacy of it all. I wonder if this is how your average American felt during the Vietnam War, with the war in your living room every night. At least a couple of times a week for the past year or so, we’ve had a new incident of police bullying, misconduct, brutality and murder being displayed on our televisions, computers, phones and tablets.

    Unlike, say, the environment, this is a subject that, thanks to social media (especially Black Twitter), will not let you put your head in the sand. It’s still taking time, but it’s getting harder and harder to deny that this is a systemic issue. The “few bad apples” defense just won’t hold water anymore.

    For you, how personal is this project?

    I’m a black man in America who never carries a gun. One unarmed black man is killed each day by the police. That’s about as personal as anything can get, don’t you think?

    Which submission(s) got to you?

    There are so many, I could go on for days. I think if I had to choose one, though, it would be Ashley Woods’ “Family Portrait,” where she draws Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and a few others as though they were actually taking a portrait. When there are tragedies such as these, people end up becoming political footballs, and we tend to forget their humanity. Ashley’s piece does exactly that: reminds us that these victims were people. The saddest thing about this portrait, though — that, in the past six months since she originally drew it, she could add another 500 victims to the piece.

    “APB: Artists against Police Brutality” will be available from Rosarium Publishing in October 2015.

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