News & Politics

From Amadou Diallo to Trayvon Martin, Bruce Springsteen Revives “American Skin (41 Shots)”

The Boss connects two senseless murders of unarmed black men.

 New Yorker editor David Remnick, who caught Bruce Springsteen on his most recent tour, notes that the Boss has been playing “American Skin (41 Shots),” the song he premiered in 2000 in response to the killing of Amadou Diallo by the New York City police, in memory of Trayvon Martin. The rendition of the song from the Tampa stop is gorgeous, and tragic—and I think really enhanced beautifully by his backing singers here:

 

 

That refrain, “Is it a gun? / Is it a knife? / Is it a wallet? / This is your life” is so particularly chilling given the details of Martin’s death, the mundanity of that ice tea and the candy. And the caution the mother gives her son in the song, her injunction that “You got to understand the rules / Promise me if an officer stops you’ll always be polite / Never ever run away and promise mama you’ll keep your hands in sight” is a particularly sick reminder of how futile that promise is when you’re faced with someone determined to read you as a criminal, to do you harm, to execute their own twisted version of justice.