Less than 24 hours before I arrive at HBO’s offices in midtown Manhattan on an early April morning, Saheed Vassell is fatally gunned down by police in Crown Heights, a Brooklyn neighborhood weathering the cruel agony of gentrification. Vassell’s death was preceded by that of Stephon Clark on March 18 in Sacramento, and of Decynthia Clements, days before that, on March 12 in a Chicago suburb. One might attempt to consider the timing for a trio of police-enacted killings eerily tragic if context weren’t such a suffocating determinant in America, where the execution of black people at the hands of law enforcement has become a grim, too-frequent occurrence.
In part, the killings of Vassell, Clark, and Clements were the reason I’d been invited to midtown, though I didn’t know it yet. Seated on the 14th floor, in a conference room overlooking Bryant Park, the comedian and actor Wyatt Cenac convened a room of journalists and critics to discuss his new show, Problem Areas,