Hulu’s “Crime + Punishment” Is The Brutal Depiction of Corrupt Cop Culture
The truth not only hurts, it kills
Stephen Maing’s award-winning documentary, Crime + Punishment is currently streaming on Hulu, and after careful viewing, it’s no surprise that this offering garnered the special jury award for “social impact” at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
Aside from the prized recognition, there’s also the damning and glaring footage that’s irrefutable, and possibly responsible for the “mandatory no-quota training,” that the New York Police Department initiated around the time this disturbingly graphic film made it’s highly-anticipated debut.
It’s no shocker that the NYPD felt the pressure for a swift makeover after spending decades under the growing pile of filth that still hasn’t been completely mopped away.
But the period of intense turmoil that required police officers to aggressively patrol the streets of New York in search of Black and Brown prey to harass and bully into needless arrests, for the sake of satisfying ambitious quotas, has always been the systematic crime against society’s most vulnerable and targeted population.
The virus ferociously spread with vengeance, as countless young Black and Brown men were falling victim to the nefarious activities of an establishment that unfortunately has the law on its side. And once the word on the street exposed how the “oldest trick in the book,” was not only gaining steam, but potentially escalating into a full-blown controversy, the silent but deadly practice was supposedly deactivated sometime in 2010.
And that’s what makes Crime + Punishment that much more challenging to digest as all the nightmarish theories about how the N.Y.P.D. assaulted certain neighborhoods in search of fresh blood, comes to life under the direction of a savvy and thorough filmmaker, who stealthily invaded precincts in various parts of the city, with the help of the brave and notable group of officers that are billed as the N.Y.P.D. 12.
Maing’s soldier’s for justice are finally fed up with the burden of deviously surpassing expectations when it comes to racking up illegal quotas, and the repercussions are swift when they refuse to use Black and Brown bodies as primary tools to generate the city’s revenue — and so they file a lawsuit against the department.
We get to witness the process of the legal world, that demands hardcore evidence to be meticulously gathered, to help propel the epic battle that will finally shed the blinding spotlight on the corrosiveness of corruption, that holds non-compliant officers and unlucky victims — hostage.
The eerie scenes that showcase the recordings of crooked supervisors berating officers for failing to produce the number of quotas they’ve been assigned, could easily be a scene out of an all-star cop movie. And the resulting punishment for not complying, in the form of threats that are eventually carried out through unwarranted and unjustifiable disciplinary measures, that include demeaning re-assignments and career road blocks — unveil a maddeningly unregulated environment.
The police officers who are risking it all to restore law and order by living up to the diligence and honor of their station are unsurprisingly of Latino and African-American descent, and once the case enters the public arena, we get a bird’s eye view of how it impacts their lives.
The N.Y.P.D. 12 had committed to the quest of defeating the normalized toxicity that empowered the demonic pursuits of law enforcement, that has always been embedded in the systemic abuse of power, that permitted the volatile encounters between officers and men of color.
The high stakes in this classic battle of good vs evil is blindingly visible in the heartbreaking but all-too familiar scenario featuring the streetwise and passionate endeavors of a highly capable private investigator, Manuel Gomez, who is determined to secure the timely release of a young man serving time at Rikers Island, for a crime he didn’t commit.
We first meet the mother of Pedro Hernandez, who details how she and her family members had to temporarily vacate their apartment, located in a heavily policed neighborhood — in order to escape the daily harassment from cops that ended up devouring the future of her son.
She also gives a tour of the scene of the crime that didn’t accommodate the shooting that her son was falsely accused of by dirty cops, who purposely identified the wrong man without issue, and with the authority that rewards the effort at the expense of a life that was deemed expendable.
Maing, as an artful filmmaker on a mission, does an impeccable job utilizing the lawsuit and the Hernandez case as the over-sized mirror that captures the specks of ugliness, that combine to paint the stark imagery of blatant injustice being levied on a community that has been woefully set up to fail.
The nationalized and formidable attributes of this criminally-infused scheme entangles with the elements of political prowess — that certifies the gross negligence — guaranteeing the efficiency of tossing innocent Black and Brown bodies in the slammer based on the assurance of their traditionally condemned station.
This societal banishment that borders on extreme brutality, definitely feeds into the narrative of how targeted population are more prone to acts of violence — particularly when located in areas that seemingly pose a threat.
This mindset fuels the durability of a profitable business when the accumulated fines and penalties add up to impressive revenue, for cities that rely on this endorsed form of abuse.
The film also poignantly highlights well-publicized events like the choking death of Eric Garner, which was graphically captured in a viral video, that was incredibly difficult to internalize because of the killer instincts of the guilty cops, who mercilessly ignored the victim’s cries:
“I can’t breathe!”
We also have front row seats to the eventual and fulfilling downfall of high-ranking members of the force, who were unable to survive the avalanche of shit that emitted a stench that even they couldn’t deodorize without a trace.
And there’s also the infuriating findings in the Ferguson report — furnished by the United States Justice Department, that confirms how the city of Missouri trained its police department to focus mostly on Black and Brown communities, when it came to amassing daily quotas, that would amount to excess revenue.
The trigger-worthy nature of Crime + Punishment lies in the horrifying realization of how the all too familiar themes of societal demonization of African-Americans and Latinos in America, also recalls the gut-wrenching fate of the innocent victims, who paid the ultimate price for being at the wrong place at the wrong time due to racial makeup.
Time: The Kalief Browder Story, is the Jay-Z produced documentary streaming on Netflix, and it’s the captivating and devastating account of a young Black teen, who spent three years on Rikers Island; two of those in solitary confinement while awaiting trial for allegedly stealing the contents in a backpack.
Kalief Browder was attending high school in the Bronx when he was accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and dealt the biggest blow of his young life that carted him away to one of the most dangerous facilities in the country — without a conviction or the financial means that usually saves the asses of guilty White men — who are privileged enough to defeat the justice system.
To get the full scale of the criminalization of young Black men, compared to their White counterparts, consider the case of Ethan Couch, a young White male, who was 16-years-old when he got behind the wheel of a truck, despite being intoxicated, and proceeded to terrorize the streets of Burleson, Texas.
Couch killed four people, and injured nine, including two of his passengers, with one of them suffering complete paralysis. After being assigned to a juvenile detention center, Couch and his wealthy mother became outlaws when they ended up at a Mexican resort.
After the authorities apprehended them, Couch was given a two-year prison sentence. He was released on April 2, 2018 — just before his 21st birthday.
Kalief Browder was imprisoned for a minor crime that he didn’t commit at the same age that Ethan Couch was charged with intoxication manslaughter.
The White man was released, and is now enjoying the privilege of having his whole life ahead of him. The Black man was finally released after the evidence against him never surfaced.
But his freedom came too late. Browder killed himself in his mother’s house, two years after leaving Rikers.
Another eye-opening documentary that gives an in depth look into the direly biased judicial system, that works overtime to keep the prison system well populated with Black and Brown inmates is Ava DuVernay’s award-winning Netflix stunner — 13th.
In the end, Crime + Punishment does an enviable job sobering viewers with the facts without fiction, as we engage in the rollercoaster ride that flings the N.Y.P.D. 12 through ranges of emotions, that are inspired by the consequences that greet the very bold decision to stand up for what’s right — without the certainty that they will each emerge from the typhoon of chaos — unscathed.
The trouble with real life drama is the absence of the perfect fix because of the complexities of human nature, and the collision with imposing institutions that can’t be easily dissolved into manageable working parts.
The mandated training session that keeps uniformed officers in check when it comes to illegally gathering tickets, and logging in arrests to satisfy the quota requirements was approved by New York’s Police commissioner, James O’Neill, in early 2018.
This is a much-needed implementation that redirects the criminalized methods towards a progressive route — but why did it take so damn long?
And as police brutality remains the surefire way of legally slaughtering Black and Brown lives, there’s very little hope that the sacrifices of the dead and living will be satisfactorily vindicated.
But at least we have the truth; the indestructible force that not only hurts, but also kills.
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