“It’s weird to see things that I’ve drawn as comics years before come true,” says Knight, who last month was named a 2015 NAACP History Maker for his police-brutality cartoons, which he has collected for a touring one-man slide show titled, “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They?”
One thing that has changed over the decades, however, is the power of social media, notes Knight, creator of the comic strips “The K Chronicles” and “The Knight Life,” who will appear at the National Book Festival in Washington this September.
“All these incidents of police brutality can no longer be hidden or swept under the rug,” Knight tells The Post’s Comic Riffs. “We are now seeing it as it happens, and how often it happens. At this point, one has to truly double-down on their complete denial of how huge this problem is, or they have to acknowledge it, and work towards change.”
[Animated Video: From Selma to today, Rep. John Lewis as a social-media moral voice]
Comic Riffs talked with Knight about his experiences and observations that inform his national award-winning work:
MICHAEL CAVNA: Congrats on this new, true honor, Keith. What was your reaction when you received the news you were an NAACP History Maker, and where does this rank among your other honors, including the Inkpot [from San Diego Comic-Con]?
KEITH KNIGHT: I was shockingly surprised, humbled and honored. It means a ton, considering the amazingly brave people on the protest front who were recognized along with me. I’m just a dude with a pen.
What makes this honor special is that it reaches beyond the comics industry. Not to diminish my previous awards, but telling my parents I got recognized by the NAACP has a whole other thing to it. Makes me wish that some of my recently passed elders were around to hear about it.
MC: You mentioned recently that you got a strong response to this PowerPoint/slide-show project when you presented it in Germany. How has the reaction been different, and similar, so far in the United States? Does the power of your cartoons’ point transcend cultures, do you think – even if the national context is different – given that racism does not “respect” borders?
KK: In some ways it transcends cultures, but there’s no doubt that there’s a palpable difference between doing my slide show in Bremen and doing it in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Germany has plenty of its own issues regarding people of color, police, etc. … but the only way I can speak to it is through my own experiences as a black male dealing with racial profiling and police brutality here in the U.S.
MC: You note in your “They Shoot Black People…” comics that you did a police ride-along [in a major city]. Could you tell us about that experience? Was it eye-opening in any ways that truly surprised you, or did it more affirm your sense of the world, and police brutality?
KK: It mostly affirmed my sense of the world — cruising around the worst parts of town and monitoring poor people. One of the cops seemed extremely distrustful of me being present while they did their “jobs.” … And we drove waaayyy too fast down small, residential streets. But looking back, I think police officers should always have volunteer citizen baby-sitters riding around with them. I think they’d behave a lot better.
I will say that I’ve heard from a retired cop that, with marijuana finally being legalized all across the country, they regret putting away — and basically destroying — the lives of so many young black men for simple pot possession.
MC: The cartoons in your show span decades, including Rodney King up to Mike Brown. Do you have an infuriating, or nauseating, sense of deja-vu as you create these comics over the years? And does the public response to these cartoons change with the times?
KK: It’s weird to see things that I’ve drawn as comics years before come true. Like, a strip I did in 2008, where the targets police were shooting at were young black men.
It’s no doubt frustrating, but the public response has changed recently because of social media. All these incidents of police brutality can no longer be hidden or swept under the rug. We are now seeing it as it happens, and how often it happens. At this point, one has to truly double-down on their complete denial of how huge this problem is, or they have to acknowledge it, and work towards change.
MC: What is the next step for your slide-show project? Are you currently touring with it — and are there any plans to publish the works as a book, or your presentation as a video?
KK: I am currently booking slide-show dates for this year and next. I would love to take “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They?” to all 50 states [except perhaps Indiana] and overseas. At one presentation, someone suggested that I should present it to police trainees. I really like that idea, too.
A book collection is in order, too. As if I don’t have enough things on my plate!
MC: You’re the father of a growing family. When do you have that conversation with your children about the police and their historic and current treatment of black people [as well as so many people of color]? At what age do you have that conversation?
KK: Ahhh. That’s the big question amongst parents of color. …I think it’s a long, drawn-out conversation that you return to time and time again. Much like my comics!
Editor’s Note: If you want Knight’s slide show to come to your town, you may email him at: email@example.com.