The forms of violence used on black people from white authority in the film is worth discussing. I specifically have in mind:
- Police driving by, making extended eye contact, and reminding the three older men that the police can and will responded with violence to essentially anything.
- Sal’s use of a bat to threaten Radio Raheem
- Radio Raheem’s chokehold death by the police
- Hosing down of rioters by the fire department
Historically, white authority figures needed to remind blacks of where the power lied. Although the stare-down by the police was not a physical act of violence, it was undoubtedly a psychological act of violence. Why did Sal use a bat to appear menacing? For me, it evoked a police-baton connection, where black property or life can be destroyed without repercussions. And when Radio Raheem does respond to the Sal’s bat/baton, he gets squashed by white authority.
The two most obvious nod to historical violence on blacks was the way Radio Raheem died. While much can be said about the use of the chokehold, I’m interested in pointing out that the chokehold had him lifted off the ground. The parallel to public lynching is most stark in the photo above that has Raheem’s legs dangling above the ground. When the black man had too much agency in the Reconstruction Era the Southern whites had to respond. Raheem’s questioning of Sal’s white authority could have also easily ended with a public lynching had the incident taken place fifty years earlier. And what better way to respond to black rioters than with a good old fashioned hosing? Spike Lee uses acts of aggression on blacks in the film to remind viewers of how violence by the white man historically used still occurs, protected by a corrupt legal system.