Movie Review: Blindspotting (2018)


Title: Blindspotting
Release Date: July 20, 2018
Director: Carlos López Estrada
Production Company: Summit Entertainment | Codeblack Films | Snoot Entertainment
Summary/Review:

Real life lifelong friends Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame) and Rafael Casal wrote and star in this film about gentrification and police violence in Oakland.  Diggs plays Collin Hoskins on the last three days of probation after being convicted for assault . Casal plays his volatile friend Miles Turner who does things like purchase a gun illegally, smokes weed, and picks fist fights that seem destined to get Collin to violate the terms of his probation.  Collin and Miles work together at a moving company and spend much of their social time together as well with Mile’s wife Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) and their adorable child Sean.

The movie starts off as a goofy comedy as Collin tries to avoid getting ensnared by Miles’ clueless misbehavior and they both make fun of the white hipsters taking over Oakland.  Things begin to shift to a more serious drama after Collin witnesses a cop murder a Black man by shooting him in the back.   This is one of those movies where the sequence of events happening close together with a lot of coincidences is extremely unlikely.  But you have to set aside plot machinations to focus on the acting performances and the underlying social message of the film. Particularly well done is that while Collin and Miles have had similar life experiences, nevertheless, the experience for Collin as a Black man is different from what Miles has as a white man, something the latter has to learn.

Rating: ***1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending April 10


99% Invisible :: The Real Book

How a book of pirated sheet music became a must have for students in jazz music programs.

Throughline :: Policing in America

A history of police in America and how it has served the purposes of white supremacy.

Unf*cking the Republic :: Mass Incarceration: The War on Drugs

A  profanity-laden summary of the work Michelle Alexander and others have done to detail how increased policing and imprisonment is being used to infringe the rights of Black Americans.

Running Tally of Podcast of the Week Awards for 2021

Book Review: The Assassination of Fred Hampton by Jeffrey Haas


Author: Jeffrey Haas
Title: The Assassination of Fred Hampton: How the FBI and the Chicago Police Murdered a Black Panther
Publication Info: Chicago, Ill. : Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review Press, c2010.
Summary/Review:

I learned about Fred Hampton around 25 years ago when watching the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize.  The more I learn about Hampton, who by the age of 21 had made considerable ground in uniting people of various racial backgrounds around shared causes, the more I believe that the United States lost the potential of his leadership when he was murdered by the Chicago police on December 4, 1969.

This book is the only one I could find available about Fred Hampton.  It’s written by Jeffery Haas, an acquaintance of Hampton’s who served as a lawyer for the People Law’s Office, an organization that offered legal representation for the Chicago Black Panthers and other clients who had their civil rights violated by the government.  At first I was put off at how much Haas centers himself in the narrative, but soon learned that this is less of a biography of Hampton and more of an accounting of Haas and his colleagues efforts to find justice for the survivors of the police raid that did not reach fruition until a civil rights trial in 1982.

Haas details the gruesome conspiracy of the FBI, through their COINTELPRO program, to have the Chicago police raid Hampton’s apartment in the early morning hours and carry out a summary execution. Part of this plot involved a FBI informer who infiltrated the Chicago Black Panthers and drugged Hampton on the night of the raid. Despite ballistic evidence that the Panthers were only able to fire off one shot in exchange of dozens from the police, the police successfully characterized the raid as a “shoot-out” and the officers involved were exonerated.

Haas and his colleagues spent twelve years in litigation on civil rights suits to find some justice for the surviving Black Panthers and Hampton’s family.  Trials were presided over by a judge with an unhidden prejudice against the plaintiffs, and the FBI and Chicago police deliberately withholding evidence.  That any measure of justice was achieved through $1.85 million settlement in 1982 is a testament to the determination of the survivors and the People’s Law Office.  Nevertheless, the clear imbalance of the government and the law towards racism and inequality makes it hard to believe in true justice in the United States.

Favorite Passages:

“Unlike the example of a centralized and hierarchical political party like the Panthers, BLM is a decentralized coalition of community groups with a common platform. They say they are “leader full,” not “leader less.” This has the advantage that the assassination, jailing, or silencing of one leader will not cause the devastation of an organization like the Chicago Panthers faced after the murder of Fred Hampton.”

“The message of Black Power resonated with Fred Hampton.  He saw Black Power not as a tool to attack whites but as a concept to bring blacks together and build their confidence.  Fred said that “blackness was what was in your heart, not the color of your skin.” But any symbol of black unity, including the modest Afro that Fred wore, threatened many whites.”

“Fred talked with particular satisfaction about seeing the children eating and Panther members serving them.  He explained this was how people could understand socialism “through participation and serving the people.”

“What good did it do to have lawyers and courts and a constitution and legal precedent if the police under the direct control of the prosecutor could murder you in your bed? I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a lawyer fighting for justice inside an unjust system or on the outside exposing the legal system as a fraud, taking direct action against Fred’s killers.”

“It always pisses off victims of the police to learn that taxpayers foot the bill. ‘It isn’t right,’ I said. ‘But the police contract requires they be indemnified.  I wish we were getting money from them too. It might deter them next time.'”

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 11


Last week I had no podcasts to share.  This week I have a bumper crop!

Afropop Worldwide :: Remembering Tony Allen

Pioneering Nigerian drummer Tony Allen died this spring, shortly after releasing his final album Rejoice, with Hugh Masekela. Afropop Worldwide revisits Allen’s storied career.

BackStory :: The End of the Road: BackStory and the History of Finales in America

My favorite history podcast BackStory comes to an end with an episode about finales in American history, from President George Washington to Mary Tyler Moore.

Hidden Brain :: The Night That Lasted A Lifetime: How Psychology Was Misused In Teen’s Murder Case

The story of a Black Boston teenager, Fred Clay, who spent 38 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted based on evidence the police extracted using hypnosis.

The Last Archive :: For the Birds

Rachel Carson, the extinction of bird species, and climate change.

99% Invisible :: Freedom House Ambulance Service

The modern practice of paramedics serving communities with an emergency medical service began in the Black community in Pittsburgh just over 50 years ago.

60-Second Science :: Animals Appreciate Recent Traffic Lull

One side benefit of the COVID-19 pandemic is the reduced use of automobiles.  Some cities (not Boston, of course) have even taken advantage of creating space for people to walk and bike by closing roads to cars.  But even in rural areas, animals are thriving because of fewer collisions with motor vehicles.

Smithsonian Sidedoor :: Take Me Who Out to the Ballgame?

If you’re American, you’ve inevitably sung along with the chorus “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” baseball’s unofficial anthem.  But if you’ve never heard the chorus, you may not know that the song is about a woman who wants to watch baseball at a time when that was considered a men’s only activity.  The podcast explores the history of how the song went “viral” and features music by Chicago White Sox organist Nancy Faust.

Throughline :: The Long Hot Summer

Civil disturbances in Black communities in America in 1967 lead President Johnson to call the Kerner Commission. The commission’s report revealed evidence of police violence that was criticized and ignored at the time, but still reads as a diagnoses of our present-day crises.


Podcasts of the Week Ending June 27


The Politics of Everything :: The Political Power of Protests

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw talks on police killings and the effect of COVID-19 on Black Americans, Osita Nwanevu talks about how protests affect public policy, and Patrick Blanchfield explains how the police use language to obscure police violence.

What Next :: How the NYPD Gets Away With It

The story of what happened when a police car hit a Black child on Halloween in New York.  Read more in this Pro Publica article by Eric Umansky.


Podcasts of the Week Ending June 20


My favorite podcasts are increasingly becoming so focused on current events that I wonder if they’ll still be relevant on Saturday, but I’m pretty sure that all of these podcasts are still “fresh.”

All Songs Considered :: New Music Friday: Run The Jewels

A deep dive into the terrific new album, RTJF, and album that speaks to a current moment of reckoning with racial discrimination and policing.

Fresh Air :: Poet Eve Ewing Connects 1919 Chicago Riots To Today

Eve Ewing found poetry in the report analyzing Chicago’s “Red Summer” and uses it to draw parallels to systemic racism that persists 100 years later.

Have You Heard :: Arrested Development: How Police Ended Up in Schools

One of the worst aspects of overpolicing in the USA is the use of police to address school discipline issues and the perpetuation of a school-to-prison pipeline. The podcast traces the history of police in schools back to the 1960s and includes some commentary from some brilliant Boston Public School students

Here & Now :: #SayHerName Campaign; The State Of The Coronavirus Pandemic

The #SayHerName Campaign brings awareness to Black women who have suffered from police killings and police brutality, who are overlooked even as the world is focused on Black Lives Matters issues.

Planet Money :: Police Unions And Police Violence

Police unions are not like other unions, as police already have powers that other workers do not, and the existence of police unions helps perpetuate police killings and police violence.

Radiolab :: Nina

The music of Nina Simone and why it resonates with our times.

What Next :: A Politician’s Brush with NYPD Abuse

New York state senator Zellnor Myrie offers his first-hand experience with police violence during protests in Brooklyn, and how it’s translating into dramatic legislative action.


Documentary Movie Review: The Thin Blue Line (1988) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “T” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “T” documentaries I’ve reviewed are 13th, Titicut Follies, Tower, and Trekkies.

Title: The Thin Blue Line
Release Date: August 25, 1988
Director: Errol Morris
Production Company: American Playhouse | Channel 4 Television Corporation | Third Floor Productions
Summary/Review:

This is the third documentary movie directed by Errol Morris after Gates of Heaven (1978) and Vernon, Florida (1981).  Like its predecessors, the movie is largely made up of interviews with various people edited together to tell a story.  The production values are much glossier and the soundtrack is scored by Phillip Glass.

A big change in this movie is the use of dramatic reenactments as the central crime in the movie is recreated several times from different perspectives. Typically, I cringe at dramatic reenactments and this movie has been credited (blamed for?) introducing them into hacky true crime tv shows from the 1990s to the present.  But under the direction of Morris, the reenactments appear more like art film shorts, and the way they show different people’s interpretation of the events has lead to the movie being compared to Rashomon.

The movie focuses on the murder of a Dallas police officer at a traffic stop in 1976, and the conviction of Randall Adams for the crime.  The movie’s thesis is that Adams is innocent of the murder, and examines the weak evidence against him while hypothesizing why the criminal justice system persisted in their case against him.  Interviewees include Adams, David Harris (the actual murderer), witnesses, judges, lawyers, and detectives.  Morris not only made an intriguing documentary, but the attention to the case lead to Texas overturning the conviction of Adams the following year.

Rating: ***1/2

Documentary Movie Review: Let the Fire Burn (2013) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “L” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “L” documentaries I’ve reviewed are The Last Waltz, Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man, Life Itself, and loudQUIETloud: a film about the Pixies.

Title: Let the Fire Burn
Release Date: October 2, 2013
Director: Jason Osder
Production Company: George Washington University
Summary/Review:

On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia became known as “the city that bombed itself,” and incident that remains shocking and mindboggling 35 years later.  The Philadelphia Police dropped an incendiary device on the rooftop of an organization called MOVE, and then made the controversial decision to “let the fire burn” (although fire apparatus were on site) that lead to the deaths of five children, six adults, and the destruction of 65 row houses in the West Philadelphia.  The bombing resulted from a multi-year confrontation among police and neighbors with an organization called MOVE, a Black liberation group that espoused a back-to-the-earth philosophy and were highly confrontational with the police and neighbors (which included a loud speaker on the exterior of the house where they broadcast profanity-laced tirades).

The movie is structured around two films made in the wake of the bombing.  One is a deposition by 13-year-old Michael Moses Ward (aka Birdie Africa), the only child to escape the destruction of the MOVE house.  The other is the Philadelphia Special Investigation Commission hearings held in November 1985 chaired by chaired by William H. Brown, III.  With these retrospective accounts providing the framing, the film cuts in archival film and photographs as well as news coverage.

The film documents the emergence of MOVE in the 1970s, their initial conflicts with the police, and a 1978 shootout when Mayor Frank Rizzo tried to have the police evict MOVE from their first headquarters.  The shootout resulted in the death of one police officer and the conviction of nine MOVE members for his murder.  When the organization moved into their new location on Osage Avenue, they fortified the building with wooden boards across all the openings and constructed a wooden tower on the roof.  The rooftop “bunker” was a major concern for the police who saw it as a place where MOVE members could potentially fire at the police.  The destruction of that bunker proved to be the impetus that lead to the many unconscionable decisions by the police.

The movie has a verite style that kind of guides one through the events as they happen with no outside narrator providing context.  The movie feels all too relevant today when Black Americans continue to bear the brunt of police violence.  No doubt, MOVE was a cultish and obnoxious organization, but we’ve seen many instances of police dealing with well-armed white conservative and Christian groups without resorting to brutal violence, much less burning down the homes of dozens of innocent neighbors.  We see one police officer commended for attempting to rescue children from the burning building, and then learn that the words “n****r lover” were scrawled on his locker.  This movie serves as an important document of the intersection of liberty, policing, and racism in America.

Rating: ****

Book Reviews: A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes


Author: Chris Hayes
TitleA Colony in a Nation
Narrator: Chris Hayes
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2017)
Summary/Review:

Riffing off a phrase from Richard Nixon’s nomination speech, journalist Chris Hayes writes a series of essays about how African Americans have in fact become a “colony within a nation” in the decades since Nixon stressed the importance of law and order. The “colony” within the United States is denied the right people enjoy in the largely white “nation” and the nation is built on exploitation of the colony.  Issues covered include police violence against Black Americans, and systems of police enforcement driven by drawing revenue from largely Black populations, the War on Drugs, the militarization of police, white fear, and Broken Windows ideology. Hayes notes that the “nation” requires that the “order” part of “law and order” be prioritized and thus law is often used as a blunt instrument rather than a tool of justice.

Hayes’ strongest writing comes in the analogies he uses to explain his ideas.  The life for Black Americans in the colony is similar to Colonial Americans who rebelled against British rule.  While unjust taxation is often credited with starting the American Revolution, Hayes traces the history of excessive force used by the British in an attempt to stop smuggling and make the Colonials pay tariffs being the real source of division.  White fear that drives police officers and white gun owners to shoot Black people without thinking is similar to the siege mentality of early colonists living among Native Americans and slave owners who lived in constant fear that they’d be victims of violence from Native Americans and enslaved Africans.  The idea of how community policing may work in comparison with the increasingly militarized and punitive policing in America today is demonstrated by how college campuses are policed. Colleges have a considerable amount of disorder and a high level of law breaking that is tolerated and even encouraged in a way that is opposite of how a poor, urban neighborhood is treating.

This is a well-written and thoughtful book and a good one to read to reflect on current events and how we can change things for the better.

Recommended booksNobody by Marc Lamont Hill, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein, and Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Rating: ****

 

Podcasts of the Week Ending September 29


This American Life :: The Runaways

An infuriating story about children going missing on Long Island and the police refusing to help because they’re from Latin American immigrant families.  Prepare to shake with rage.

Hidden Brain :: Eyes Wide Open

Exploring the dangers of sleep deprivation with the record holder for most days without sleeping – 11!

Radiolab :: Infective Heredity

New research shows how genes can be swapped among organisms and passed on to offspring.