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The mirror up to nature, even when it’s not pretty: Dave Kipp, 1986-2013

December 17, 2014

A fight buddy recently said, “I have this idea, but everyone thinks it’s fucked up.”

“Now you have to tell me.”

“I want to do The Laramie Project, but… actually stage the murder.”

Okay. Wow. The Laramie Project is a play put together from interviews with residents of Laramie, WY shortly after the 1997 murder of Matthew Shepherd. He was pistol-whipped into a coma and left to die, tied to a fence outside of town. Put that on stage? For a play about a community divided and haunted by violent death? Fucked up, yeah, but not a bad idea, and I said as much. At the time, which was a few months before the national white consciousness turned to racism, my thoughts were on Dave Kipp.

As far as we could tell, Dave and I were the only Deadheads at Andrew W. Mellon Middle School. We spent seventh and eighth grades attached at the hip, arguing about music, rewatching The Matrix, and hanging out in the pagan/occult shop a stone’s throw from school.

In my backyard, summer of 1999

In my backyard, summer of 1999. As you can see, we are both white; more on that later.

We fell out of touch after I moved in mid-2000, and in late 2013, I was shocked when another friend wrote to let me know that Dave had just died. Trying to find out what happened, made uneasy by the lack of information, I found an article detailing Dave’s 2010 arrest on drug charges and how, in the holding cell, he’d been assaulted by a prison guard making homophobic slurs. A court case against the guard dragged on for years, and Dave died the week before his attacker’s sentencing.

There was a picture with the article: Dave with black eyes, a broken and splinted nose. I have never seen a face I loved so ravaged. That image hovers between me and every nice memory of my friend.

In the wake of grand juries failing to indict Darren Wilson and Sean Williams for their fatal shootings, and Daniel Pantaleo for the choking death of Eric Garner, I have been thinking about crime and punishment. What did I want to happen to Arii Metz, the guard who attacked Dave? At first — this time, last year — I was boiling over with rage that his defense included “prison guards don’t do well in jail” and “I have a young son,” and that he was sentenced to only probation and counseling.

But now that I know the astonishing rate at which white people and especially police kill black people with near-impunity, I stop and think. The Department of Corrections did fire Metz after charges were filed. There was a trial, for God’s sake, and even if the sentence wasn’t heavy, at least the wheels of justice were, like, round. And I’ll repeat, to remind myself as much as readers, Metz did not kill Dave Kipp. And if he had, there would still have been a trial, and with a very different outcome. There was a trial over Matthew Shepard’s death. What a low bar, America. What a shamefully low bar: “There was a trial.”

I’m trying to be a good ally in the fight against racism, listening and not speaking, and I know it’s problematic to link Dave to Matthew Shepard to the black men and boys who are killed in the name of “law enforcement.” I’m processing private grief and responsible allyhood, while the similarities skitter back and forth.

What I really want is for Metz to come to that hellishly graphic performance of The Laramie Project. Most days I talk happily about stabbing and punching people, but real violence is obscene. Inexcusable. And violence haunts the play, unseen and often unnamed, as characters young and old, gay and straight, struggle with the same shocking reminder of our own fragility and the impermanence of everything we love. So let’s do a Laramie Project that hits us right there. More and more it seems like we — especially we, white people — could do with a reminder of the consequences of violence.

Dave, I love you, and I’m sorry we didn’t talk for so long, and whether it’s right or wrong I carried you with me to #MillionsMarchOakland.

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