An Officer-Involved Shooting Plays Out in Oakland Theater
Courtesy of Flipsyde Productions
A new play premiering in Oakland this weekend takes an unflinching look at violence through the lens of race, law enforcement and the media. “Cops and Robbers” is a one man-show from first-time playwright Jinho Ferreira.
Ferreira – pronounced fuh-HAY-duh – brings a unique perspective to the script. To create the multiple characters that populate the script he draws on his vast life experience, including his days as an alternative hip hop artist, his job as an Alameda County sheriff’s deputy, and his time growing up in West Oakland.
Getting young people to see the play is especially important to Ferreira, who also goes by his MC name of Piper. So one day this week he spent his lunchtime at the Laney College cafeteria, down the street from his old West Oakland neighborhood.
“I mean, I put some real life on the stage,” he told students as he pressed a flyer into their hand. “And anyone who is interested in improving the quality of life of the community should come check it out.”
Ferreira wants “Cops and Robbers” to show real life as seen by the many faces of Oakland, a perspective he got moving between worlds. He went from West Oakland to Berkeley High to San Francisco State. He toured internationally with his band Flipsyde, opening for rap artist Snoop Dogg and the Black Eyed Peas. He speaks Portugese, and now works as a sheriff’s deputy.
“I don’t think I ever felt like I fit into any individual group or any world,” Ferreira says. “I’ve always had an all access card where I could move around. I have no idea why.”
Ferreira gives his audience their own all-access card in a story about an officer-involved shooting that seems straightforward but keeps pivoting. The play’s action starts with Ferreira playing a young TV reporter at a crime scene.
He stands upright, imaginary microphone at the ready before he delivers the lines that kick off the plot. “An Oakland Police Officer shot a man across the street from this plant,” his news reporter says breathlessly. “The man then returned fire, wounding the officer and managed to escape into the plant.”
Ferreira then shapeshifts into the rest of his characters, who cling to their ideologies like they would to sinking ships.
As soon as the news report is over, his black activist character jumps in with an assessment. “They are shooting first and leaving us to ask the questions later,” Ferreira’s character shouts. “Holding open target practice in our streets.”
Ferreira morphs yet again into an easily recognizable conservative white talk show host. “God bless that officer who was shot by the suspect, who I am willing to bet anything is a parolee,” says the radio host, seated in a chair. “A parolee who was released early by a liberal judge. You can thank the 9th Circuit for that.”
Ferreira throws one curve ball after another at the audience and at his cast – which also includes a police officer, a thug, and a judge. There are no sacred cows. Somehow there are plenty of laughs. Yet the content is sometimes painfully graphic, dealing with such topics as racism and prostitution.
Ferreira says he wants to jolt his audience into action because given the unrelenting violence, he doesn’t see an alternative.
“Everyone in Oakland who lives in the flatlands has driven by at some point or another a little girl dressed like a prostitute and prostituting,” he says with charcteristic directness. “And we all drive by it, and the majority of us shake our head and say, 'that’s a damn shame' and we keep on driving.”
The play’s themes are universal, but the show is also rooted in Oakland, with references to the recent murders of 3 young children and reporter Chauncey Bailey.
When Ferreira completed the play, the first person he shared it with was Amy Zins. She was his drama teacher in a community college class 18 years ago. The two met again five years ago when she was working as film coordinator for the city of Oakland and he was making a video with Flipsyde.
Zins says she was determined to bring “Cops and Robbers” to audiences after her first read-through. “It’s like you could read it and think it’s a true story. But it’s not. It’s just an honest story.”
Zins is co-producing Cops and Robbers. Though she loves the play, she says at times it was difficult to work on.
“There is ugly imagery in it, some really horrible things that happen to people,” she says. “I would say it was only in the last few weeks that when I saw it I haven’t still cried.
Ferreira says he hopes the play inspires people to step up and find solutions. He plans to make a movie version next. And in a move that would bring at least two of his worlds together, he plans to have his band Flipsyde write the music.