Analytical Essay on Police Brutality in the 80s

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Johnson’s conscious decision to write the poem, Sonny’s Lettah, in the non-standard English language, specifically Patois, is a particularly distinctive language feature in most of his work. Surprisingly, the narrator’s nationality or race is not made clear or directly confirmed through physical descriptions, rather this takes place through the use of language. The fact that the entire poem is written in a typical Caribbean dialect on the account of the narrator hints at his ethnic background and that he is not native to England. The poem was initially released in 1979, after the mass migration of people from commonwealth countries, particularly the famous Windrush generation from the Caribbean.

The poem represents how black individuals, especially young men such as “likkle Jim” were treated by the social epitome of authoritative figures, the police. However, it also depicts the relationship between black men in Britain during the late 70s and early 80s, where they had to “look out” for each other, as no one else would. The narrator sets the scene by describing “mi an Jim stan-up/ waitin pan a bus,/ nat cauzin no fus”, further reinforcing the brutal treatment they received in the above-mentioned unprovoked incident. The poem is subtitled “(Anti-Sus Poem) proving that it is clearly written in protest of the ‘sus law’ that was enforced in the Vagrancy Act of 1824, which was in other terms racially profiling. The law was abolished soon after the publication of this poem, after the 1981 Brixton riots in London.

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The abab rhyme scheme becomes prominent in two stanzas of the poem where the rhyme is much more noticeable once read orally and interpreted aurally. These stanzas, eight and ten, beginning “dem tump him in the belly” and “an him start to cry” respectively, are when violence takes place in the poem.

Both stanzas highlight the severity of police brutality on the two young, presumably black men. In essence, this sheds light on the taboo topic of brutality towards black people, which during the context, society partook in subscribing to the British norm of pushing such political topics ‘under the rug’. Arguably, the rigid structure in the two stanzas is representative of the harsh treatment black individuals received from the police, which was done in order to assert physical and legal dominance and power; putting a hierarchy in place. The repetition of “an him” and “mi tump” displays the narrator’s resistance to the power of the police. This act of “tump[ing]” carried out by the narrator leads to the harsh consequences when “dem charge Jim for sus,// den charge mi fi murdah” as a result of their inability to submit and essentially give power to the police. The fact that this stanza begins and ends with “an him”, in reference to a police officer, suggests the cyclicality in the negative nature of the relationship between young black men and the police, never changing and never-ending.

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Analytical Essay on Police Brutality in the 80s. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
“Analytical Essay on Police Brutality in the 80s.” Edubirdie, 19 Sept. 2023,
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