By Mason Johnson
There have been many reactions to Saturday’s acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year. Yesterday (July 16), Bruce Springsteen performed his own reaction in a way only Bruce Springsteen can: with a heartbreaking song.
The song was “American Skin (41 Shots).”
A song equally emotional and political, it first appeared in Bruce Springsteen’s live performances in 2000. It was based on Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea who was shot 41 times by four New York City police officers after pulling out his wallet. Outrage followed the death of Diallo, with many making claims of police brutality and racial profiling. After the four officers were acquitted of second-degree murder and reckless endangerment, many protested, resulting in over 1,000 arrests.
Many officers boycotted Springsteen after he played “American Skin (41 Shots)” at Madison Square Garden in 2000, threatening to pull security details from the rest of his 10 show run.
Volatile situations call for volatile songs. More than anything though, “American Skin (41 Shots)” is a sad song — a song that makes you want to cry more than it makes you want to protest. At one point it tells the story of a mother getting her child ready for school. She has to explain to her son — in the wake of an unarmed man being shot and killed — how to interact with police. She “explains the rules” to her son, but the catch is, of course, that the rules aren’t the same for everyone in America. That the rules can change, can be harsher or lesser, depending on the color of your skin.
Surrounded by violence in many forms here in Chicago, you have to ask yourself: How are the rules different here? Do they twist and contort depending on the color of your skin?
While in Limerick, Ireland on Tuesday, according to the Star Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen saw a sign asking him to play “American Skin.” According to an attendee of the show, “He said, ‘Where is that sign?’ and grabbed it. He then said, ‘I want to send this one out as a letter back home. For justice for Trayvon Martin.’”
And then he played “American Skin (41 Shots).” Watch it below.