Black Playwright James Scruggs portfolio of work focuses on race, racism, supremacy, and privilege. The witty, no-holds-barred dramatist is no stranger to any plot, scheme, or ploy to oppress Black people. On Friday, life imitated art in Scruggs world.
Scruggs was asleep when his husband Mark Rayment awakened him to advise that someone tried to break into the house. In an exclusive interview with GCE, Scruggs recounted the odd story, “A guy was on the roof, then he came down the chimney pipe and broke the glass window by mistake. The young man jumped down to the ground, ran around the block and came back to my house.” When the couple asked him what he was doing, the man said, “I need to get to the board of education.”
Realizing something wasn’t quite right, the couple called the Jersey City Police. “Sweet kid, he was like, ‘I am glad that the police are here and hopefully they can take me to the board of education’” recounts Scruggs. He said it was a chilly 35 degrees outside, but the guy took off his shirt to wrap his finger because it was bleeding. As such, the man whom Scruggs thought may have mixed-race heritage due to his light skin, stood there shirtless, exposing himself to extreme cold.
This story sounds like a normal incident. But that’s where the normalcy ends. Or does it?
Scruggs, the writer of two chilling theater experiences about racism said, “The scene went exactly as I expected it to.”
Mark, who is white and British, called the police. He shared that they asked if the intruder was black or Latino. As soon as the police arrived, they immediately took charge, boldly shouting instructions. An undercover cop started the process, pointing his gun immediately…. at Scruggs!! He shouted at him to “get on the ground.” Scruggs complied while both his husband and the intruder stood by.
Scruggs is not one to mince words. “I guess the official police way to quickly judge a crime scene is to see who is the darkest one. Black is evil…”
Next, the police asked the black creator of thought pieces on race relations in America for ID. They did not ask Mark or the intruder. Scruggs was asleep at the time, so he ran out the house in pajamas. “Mark white-splained to the policeman that we live together and that I own this home. This is f*cked up. It never dawned on the police that I could be the homeowner.” He shudders, “If my husband didn’t have his ID…”
Life imitates art for a Black Playwright
The writer continued, “The scene went exactly as I expected. It’s scary how unsurprised I was about the whole thing. It’s like everything was going in slow motion and I could literally see how this could escalate and I KNEW. When the police pulled up, I thought about going into the house to get my ID, but I thought, ‘I would be dead.'”
“It’s amazing how my thought process was rational practical thinking. Like, do I get Smuckers jelly or do I get Welch’s? That is the scariest part. That is the world that I live in. It’s f*cked up that people who look like me have to walk the earth like this.”
A clearly frustrated Scruggs shares, “The fact that I am in a position where I expect to be treated like that. To understand in advance that I am the darkest one, so I will be the culprit. To automatically know that the police will accuse me for a period of time… and thank God my husband had his ID on him. The police immediately made him an ally.
Looking Beyond His Own Ordeal
In the midst of reeling from his own ordeal, Scruggs spoke about the bigger picture, “My story is nice in a philosophical kind of way but people are DYING. That is how it starts. All I had to do was put my hands in my pockets or turn around to enter my house and get my ID. But I KNEW better.”
Scruggs is the creator of the critically acclaimed 3/Fifths which debuted in New York City this year. He subsequently created an additional interactive piece that, according to Theater Critic James Wilkerson, shows “How the past connects to the present and how depictions in media bubble over into real life.”
“I just got back from Boston finishing a run of my latest piece 3/Fifths’ Trapped in a Traveling Minstrel Show.” While describing the show he said, “America views documentary dashcam video as if looking at a painting. Black folks, white folks, and blue folks see very different images. I wish we (black men) had a phrase of exoneration or a get out of jail phrase as powerful as ‘I feared for my life.'”
He further clarifies, “It makes you think, how can you look at Walter Scott running away from a policeman and be like, ‘Walters ass made him scared?’ But in a court of law, they came to that conclusion.”
He concludes, “I’ve been doing this work on race, racism, supremacy, and privilege. So, I didn’t put my hands up too high. And I stood there really still, trying to project light skin and good hair, and fold my d*ck in half. I can’t make myself look friendlier but I can project it.”
…And if you could swallow that comment, you may be a perfect audience member for 3/Fifths. The “zingers” don’t stop.
New Jersey and Racial Profiling
When they realized that the black playwright actually owned the home, the Jersey City Police didn’t apologize or say anything.
New Jersey is a state fraught with complaints of racial profiling. Executive Order #127 attempts to address several concerns, beginning with:
“WHEREAS, it is the policy of this State to eradicate and prohibit the practice of racial profiling in which law enforcement officers prejudge the likelihood that persons are engaged in criminal activity based not upon an objective assessment of their conduct but rather upon their race or ethnicity”
To read the full executive order click here
In the meantime, he and Mark will move forward from this experience that further validates the artistic path Scruggs travels.
The Jersey City Police Chief was not available for comment when we contacted the department. Should GCE obtain a statement we will update this story.