'Trayvon Martin' leads wave of racial-justice documentaries

Racial injustice -- focused on the treatment of young African-American men by law enforcement -- is the topic of seve...

Posted: Jul 30, 2018 3:45 PM
Updated: Jul 30, 2018 3:45 PM

Racial injustice -- focused on the treatment of young African-American men by law enforcement -- is the topic of several upcoming documentaries, which together provide an in-depth portrait of the fractured relationship between certain communities and the justice system.

The Paramount Network and BET take the deepest dive with "Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story," a six-episode unscripted series devoted to the 2012 killing and subsequent trial of George Zimmerman. The same night, PBS will premiere "Whose Streets?," which documents the aftermath of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Mo.

Those productions are followed in August by "Sugar Town," a sobering Investigation Discovery documentary about a young man who died while in police custody in Louisiana; and "Crime + Punishment," a spare look at New York city police officers who were penalized for resisting pressure to improve arrest-rate numbers by targeting people of color.

Each project has its merits, but the real impact comes in their collective weight, seeing similar patterns and attitudes reenacted across different regions and jurisdictions.

"Crime + Punishment" is somewhat unique in that it looks at the officers who resisted a policy that their bosses denied even existed. It also highlights some high-profile cases that were a byproduct of those arrests, including Eric Garner's death from a police chokehold in 2014.

"Sugar Town," meanwhile, tells the story of 22-year-old Victor White III, a reverend's son who was fatally shot in the back of a police car. The official story -- that he somehow took his own life, when his hands were cuffed behind him -- immediately prompted suspicion, leading to it being labeled "the Houdini handcuff suicide."

The demand for answers by White's heartbroken family generated national headlines, exposing a pattern of corruption related to the small parish's sheriff's department.

Similarly, the Martin case became a national rallying point, after Zimmerman followed and shot Martin, 17, claiming self-defense at his trial.

The case triggered also debate about Florida's Stand Your Ground Law -- which is back in the headlines, thanks to another shooting, this time of an unarmed man in a parking-lot dispute -- and gave rise to the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

As the series notes in painstaking detail, the jury's not-guilty verdict was a byproduct of numerous factors, from the way the defense exploited the image of African-American men as predators to the many missteps by the prosecution. But the filmmakers also take time to humanize Martin, while presenting Zimmerman's history of alerting the police about African-American youths in the neighborhood -- raising issues of racial profiling that were excluded from consideration at trial.

"Racial profiling is all this case is about. That's the entire thing," author Mychal Denzel Smith notes in the film.

Modern means of recording police interactions, including cellphone and dash-cam videos, have played a pivotal role in the evolving coverage of these events, providing visual evidence of abuses that were previously unavailable.

Several of these cases have commanded widespread media coverage, but there's a clear benefit in exploring the issues with greater depth and context, which is often elusive when faced with the vagaries of a fast-moving news cycle.

In a sense, these documentaries -- coupled with other recent ones, such as Ava DuVernay's "13th" and the Oscar-nominated short "Traffic Stop" -- bring to mind the parable about the blind men and the elephant. Watched individually, each offers a different glimpse of the larger problem. It requires taking a step back -- and comparing notes -- to gain perspective on the complete picture.

"Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story" and "Whose Streets?" premiere July 30 at 10 p.m. on Paramount Network/BET and PBS, respectively.

"Sugar Town" airs Aug. 6 at 8 p.m. on Investigation Discovery.

"Crime + Punishment" opens in limited theatrical release on Aug. 24.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307519

Reported Deaths: 7096
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20772248
Hinds19888408
Harrison17489302
Rankin13311275
Jackson13097243
Madison9895210
Lee9856169
Jones8290160
Forrest7523146
Lauderdale7187237
Lowndes6262144
Lamar610584
Lafayette6027117
Washington5280132
Bolivar4769129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4442103
Pearl River4419139
Warren4280118
Marshall4273100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4057132
Union403675
Neshoba3987176
Lincoln3869108
Hancock372085
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322681
Pike3180104
Scott310572
Yazoo304368
Alcorn297764
Itawamba296776
Copiah292965
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284668
Prentiss275659
Marion265779
Wayne261341
Leake261073
Grenada254982
Covington254580
Adams245882
Newton244859
George237847
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213273
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182454
Stone179131
Clarke176876
Tallahatchie175240
Calhoun163230
Yalobusha158836
Smith158534
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126223
Noxubee125933
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite120041
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95226
Humphreys94332
Franklin81823
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 518899

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson753641487
Mobile37763798
Madison33859494
Tuscaloosa25266443
Montgomery23962565
Shelby23106238
Baldwin20631300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14284311
Morgan14139268
Etowah13662345
Marshall11957219
Houston10380278
Elmore9993200
Limestone9811147
Cullman9470188
St. Clair9426234
Lauderdale9215227
DeKalb8746181
Talladega8058171
Walker7087275
Jackson6754110
Autauga6723103
Blount6483135
Colbert6203130
Coffee5399112
Dale4767110
Russell428838
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia387674
Dallas3527149
Chambers3499122
Clarke346360
Marion3065100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256258
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224755
Hale218775
Butler212266
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171440
Washington164038
Macon154548
Clay149354
Crenshaw149257
Cleburne146041
Lamar139234
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99228
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
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