As an officer with the Metropolitan Police Department, Meshaun Labrone experienced and observed the terrible emotional and psychological toll the job exacts on black officers. Labrone, who previously worked as a state corrections officer in his native Florida and served with MPD from 2013 to 2016, drew on his experiences to write Spook, a one-man play that’s part of the 2018 Capital Fringe Festival. In it, Daryl “Spook” Spokane, an MPD officer on death row for murdering five fellow cops, speaks for the first time about why he went on his killing spree, doing a live interview one hour before his execution. The intense play explores racial dynamics on the street and within the police department. This isn’t Labrone’s first appearance at the Fringe Festival; he’s previously written and appeared in Power! Stokely Carmichael in 2016 and Right to Remain: The Life and Mind of Tupac Shakur in 2012. He’s scheduled to perform the Stokely Carmichael play at the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City on September 16. City Paper spoke with Labrone about how his experiences with MPD informed Spook and how MPD can better serve the community.
City Paper: How many of your former MPD colleagues or other local police officers have seen the play, and what has their reaction been? Has the reaction differed between black and white officers?
Meshaun Labrone: A few colleagues of mine from MPD and other agencies have seen the play, an equal mix of black and white officers. All of these folks said that I captured what it means to be an officer perfectly and the frustrations that come along with it. They said I brought an authenticity to it that they have not seen even in most TV shows. The black officers really said that it hit home for them about what it means to be black wearing blue, the stress of trying to keep the peace on the streets and peace in the police station.
CP: When did you start writing this play? Was there a specific experience in MPD or incident outside the department that inspired you to write this?
ML: As a writer I’m always jotting down ideas. As a corrections officer for the state of Florida (Labrone is from the state, and worked as a corrections officer there in the late 1990s to 2001), I wrote short stories and a book of poetry. Experiences always feed the creative mind. I had run-ins with some officers whom I felt were a bit overzealous in their need to “get it on” as a police officer. And with the department being as diverse as it is, there was still racism among some that wore the badge. But it was the 2013 shooting rampage that Christopher Dorner went on that made me stand up and say, “What pushed this guy over the edge?” Dorner was the Los Angeles police officer who went on a shooting rampage because he believed he was fired in retaliation for reporting excessive force. (Dormer allegedly shot five police officers, killing two. He also shot and killed the daughter of a retired police captain and her fiancé, authorities said. He posted a manifesto on Facebook claiming the LAPD unjustly fired him and threatened to go to war with law enforcement officers and their families. Dormer died during a shootout with law enforcement officers.)
Another influence was the Fort Hood shooting by Dr. Nidal Hasan, the Army major and psychiatrist who killed 13 people in 2009. I had also heard that a few years ago officers were about to pull their weapons on each other at an MPD district. The amount of stress and frustration that officers are under is unimaginable. And this was something I wanted to explore. Personally, I had one of my first partners was going through a personal matter and he later put a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. He survived but it shook me. What if he would have not waited til he got home? What if he would have done it here at work and took some folks with him? These things inspired my play.
CP: To what extent were the characters described by Spook—sexually creepy officers, indifferent supervisors, an obese fellow officer assigned to desk duty—inspired by real-life officers you worked with?
ML: A few of these characters were inspired by real people but out of respect for their privacy, I will not give their names. The “creepy officer” (known in the play as Officer Graffiti) that you mentioned was inspired by Marc Washington. He was arrested for taking naked pictures of a 15-year-old girl while on duty. In 2014, Officer Washington was found dead in the river at Hains Point.
CP: How did you arrive at the nickname for the protagonist, Spook? What different meanings can people take from this name?
ML: Spook was a derogatory term that white supremacists would call black people. Spokane’s sergeant could not get his name right so he says in frustration “Spooky. Spook. SPOKANE!” It’s all the same meaning: I dismiss you, black man. I don’t see you. I don’t even give you the common courtesy to know how to say your name properly. You are nothing to me. Not a human being, nothing important. You’re not real, a ghost … a SPOOK. He is also a symbol of the things that haunt our society: racism, violence, neglect, self-hatred, despair, poverty, broken families, isolation, the desperate need for strong leaders and role-models.
CP: Do you see Spook as a victim of the system, a flawed hero, or maybe some of both?
ML: He is a victim in the same way all black people, and white people, too, are victims in the system of white supremacy. It’s a nightmarish distortion of truth that society is slowly awakening to, and we are working to free ourselves from its clutches but it’s tough. It will take all of us actively rooting out the cancerous tumor of white supremacy and racism. Flawed hero? For sure. A little bit of both. All human beings are flawed. None of us are perfect. But Spook is an ultra-sensitive idealist, and he is a man that has seen too much.
CP: What do you think of the current state of MPD-community relations?
ML: I think that MPD community relations is doing an awesome job. I don’t think you can ask more from a department where the officers in a go-go band that plays for citizens at events, officers that go out into the neighborhoods in 6 and 7D. My career path was to work with the community relations division, recruiting (which I had the chance to do as an adjunct), and work in investigations for the youth division. Hopefully, one day I’ll be able to do that. I still love MPD.
CP: What could MPD do better to improve its relationship with the community it serves? What can community members do to improve ties with the police department?
ML: Continue having dialogue with the residents. If I were there, I’d put together a youth theatrical troupe. Some of those children don’t just want to play sports or rap. Some actually would like to express themselves through movement and by raising their voices. Theater did that for me in my neighborhood, which was just like Southeast. It saved me. But all of this can’t just be on the police. The residents have to be accountable as well. Be accountable for those people that are committing crimes. If it’s some of the youth, make it your business to let them know that it won’t be tolerated. And if they continue, let MPD know. Gone are the days of “STOP SNITCHING.” Let’s kill that. If you kill one of our babies, like Makiyah Wilson, the community should do everything in its power to have those criminals turned in within 24 hours. We have to let them know that will not be tolerated at all! The only way that happens is that we all get involved, police and residents.
Spook will be performed Thursday, July 26 at 6 p.m. at Arena Stage, 1101 6th St. SW. $17. (866) 811-4111. capitalfringe.org.