As I reflect on this past year, I’m reminded of When They See Us, a movie directed by Ava DuVernay about what has become known as the Central Park 5. The movie chronicles the events leading up to and the trial of five wrongfully convicted teenage boys.
As an African American, the story is all too familiar, but one we expect to have occurred back in the 1950’s; lest we forget Emmett Till. There are countless other stories, most of which have never made national news. The difference is that this took place during OUR lifetime. The significance of this happening during my lifetime is that it erases this facade that the system is more just than it has been. It demonstrates that the system is better skilled at hiding injustices. Which is scary.
An article circulated around that Ava DuVernay had a grief counselor available during the filming. I needed a grief counselor as I watched. I actually think the fact that I am a lawyer contributed to my grief. As I watched, I constantly lamented, “That’s not suppose to happen, you’re not suppose to do that!”
The United States Supreme Court case, Brown v. Mississippi, held that convictions of murder which rest solely upon confessions shown to have been extorted by officers of the State by torture of the accused are void under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. 297 U.S. 279 (1936), 297 U.S. 285.
I’m not sure what constitutes torture nor do I feel like researching for an answer. I think torture is something you know when you see it. Seeing these adolescent boys being physically assaulted by police officers while being coerced to confess to a crime they did not commit screams due process violation.
I literally wept during scenes in the Netflix series. I experienced a range of emotions. I felt hopeless and helpless. I was disappointed. I felt betrayed. I felt grateful, hopeful. Redeemed. I was grateful for redemption, while still heartbroken for all that was lost; time and innocence. Cried some more for the irreparable damage.
When my counterparts watch this film, I hope they SEE us. I hope they see why we generally distrust the police. Why we run out of fear. Why we say, Black Lives Matter. I hope they see we complied. I hope they see our rights under the law despite our emotional disposition during a police interaction. I hope they see our humanity and allow us our imperfections.
Allow us to wear hoodies. Allow us to switch lanes without signaling and live to pay the fine. Allow us to flee from the police and face the consequences under the law, incarceration and a fine, not the death penalty. Allow us to play with fake guns. Allow us to own real guns without that becoming a death sentence.
Allow us to be and truly see Us.
Previously published on Medium.com.
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