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John Boyega in Detroit, photo courtesy Annapurna
John Boyega in Detroit, photo courtesy Annapurna

Dismukes: Standing Tall or Standing By?

Security guard Melvin Dismukes (John Boyega) knows all about the racism—be it overt or subtle—seen on Detroit’s meanest streets. But he, unlike Carl, doesn’t want to rage against the system: He wants to work within it. And along the way, he offers cogent advice to African-Americans he comes in contact with. Just walk away, he tells them. Don’t make trouble. Survive the night. That’s what’s important now: To survive the night. He serves national guardsmen coffee, brushing off the occasional racial slight. He subtly protects some folks from Krauss’s unhinged interrogation, safeguarding their lives without ruffling feathers.

But Dismukes does nothing to actually stop that harassment and violence. Never does he tell Krauss and his cohorts to back off. Never does he put himself physically between the police and their victims. He does … nothing. And when Krauss later tells Dismukes that he’s a good man, Dismukes throws up in the bushes.

“The world is a dangerous place,” Albert Einstein once said, “not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.”

Dismukes wasn’t as guilty all of that. He did something that awful night. But was that something enough?

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