Amber Ruffin knows how to work her sunny persona. When someone as seemingly chipper and silly as Ruffin makes a serious-as-life-or-death joke, the juxtaposition can cut very deep, as a pair of very different segments on Friday’s Amber Ruffin Show showed. In one, Ruffin just dropped all pretense of smiling through the day’s pain, deploying the old “even a broken clock” metaphor in addressing the still-shocking fact that former Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin is actually going to jail after being convicted on all three counts in the caught-on-video murder of Black man George Floyd.
Bringing up the fact/cliché that even a broken (analogue) clock is right twice a day, Ruffin, standing beside a large clock stuck at 9:29 (the amount of time that Chauvin ground the life out of George Floyd by kneeling on the handcuffed man’s neck), ran some numbers. 1,440 minutes in a day means said clock is right exactly 0.13 percent of the time. “Not good,” noted Ruffin. Applying the same metric to the American justice system, Ruffin extrapolated that, of the 16,000 police killings since 2005, only eight police officers have been convicted of murder (including Derek Chauvin). That’s 0.05 percent. As Ruffin, abandoning all semblance of finding this shit remotely funny, put it concerning the Chauvin convictions (for second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter), “I’m so happy to have it—and I am so disgusted with how happy it makes me.” Sticking with that clock stuck irrevocably at 9:29, Ruffin closed out the metaphor by explaining, “At this point, the clock is wrong so often, it’s time to admit that it’s actually working perfectly. It was just never meant to work for us.”
The jarring sight of Amber Ruffin simply getting real and throwing fire is just one way to approach a week of truly wrenching mixed emotions, though. Returning to bubbly Amber mode behind her anchor desk, Ruffin pasted on a big, untroubled smile to bust out a rewritten version of Etta James’ rendition of “At Last.” Beaming and crooning, “At last/a murderer will go to jail/Inequality is over/Those other cops won’t get out on bail,” Ruffin wasn’t having anyone rain on her parade. Not even trusty sidekick Tarik Davis, whose nuanced objections about what actually constitutes justice Ruffin shut down peremptorily, admonishing, “Hey, no, no, no, no—fuck you. I feel great.” Cue the song!
After Ruffin launched into a rosy verse about American law enforcement being forced to reexamine their empirical racial animus and disproportionate violence by this single verdict, Davis kept trying to break in, becoming more and more irate as his boss stubbornly refused to admit any clouds into her all-silver interpretation of events. “This is progress, Tarik, you have got to let us celebrate,” Ruffin, finally breaking her groove, admonished, but Davis wasn’t having it, snapping, “I don’t gotta do shit!” Building to a truly stirring and heartbreaking anger, Tarik told Ruffin, “No! No—I am not satisfied, I’m disappointed. And I will stay disappointed until they stop killing us!”
“Dang, Tarik,” a taken-aback Ruffin exclaimed, explaining that, “today, justice prevailed!” “It was three days ago,” reminded Davis, adding, “and it wasn’t justice. Since the cops murdered George Floyd, the cops have killed at least 966 more people. And since the Chauvin verdict, cops have at least killed three. So sit down, and save your songs for another day.” Getting the chastened Ruffin to admit that she will still fear for her life the next time she gets pulled over by the police, and that, no, she probably won’t feel safe calling the police to save her if she were in danger, Davis slammed home the point that, until a profoundly racist and clock-broke system is dismantled and transformed into something a whole lot less deadly for Black and brown people, there’s nothing to sing about. Ha, ha—psyche! “I’m still just your neighborhood friendly Tarik!,” Davis told Ruffin, pasting on that show biz smile for the Peacock audience. Cue the music: “For he’s in jail/At laaaast!”