Why Netflix’s “Seven Seconds” Is a Love Letter To Grief-Stricken Black Mothers of a Broken System
Women’s History Month is currently underway and for most — it’s really an extension of Black History Month — since the issues that bind Black women — intersects with the hallow channels of racial injustice — which in effect leads to the supreme response of activism — from the mothers and daughters who’ve suffered the worse form of sacrifice that any human should be posed to give.
This is exactly what gives Netflix’s latest offering — Seven Seconds — the legitimacy that it might otherwise never acquire since the series has been receiving mixed reviews for its “slow-to-build” tempo — which is a typical characteristic of the streaming giant’s method of delivery. There’s also a lazy play with “big-reveal” moments that tend to minimize the key elements of the episodes — leading to the grand finale.
But — what can’t be disputed or overlooked is the tour-de-force performance of one of the most underrated actresses of her generation — Regina King — who embodies the torturous burden of Latrice Butler — the mother of a Black teenager — Brenton Butler — who is killed after an off-duty cop — mistakenly runs him over while hurriedly trying to get home to his pregnant wife.
What ensues after the unfortunate incident sheds light on the overt corruption that cripples law enforcement in ways that are tragically detrimental to the lives that never matter.
Once it has been established that the items at the scene of the crime belong to the Black boy who is laying unconsciousness — in a pile of snow that is rapidly turning a damning crimson hue — Officer Pete Jablonski — works with his captain and gang of thugs with badges — to clear the scene of debris as the objective evolves into leaving the dying Black teenager to rot in the frigid air — while they drive off as if nothing of worth transpired.
The rest of the series unfolds with acute familiarity as we witness the tense moments of grief-stricken parents who are desperately trying to comprehend how their once normal existence suddenly became invaded by a system that was designed for their mental disarray.
Our early impression of Mr. and Mrs. Butler reveals a couple that share deeply religious values with strong ties to their neighborhood church. The love they have for their only child is immediately evident — as they casually include him in plans that are never going to manifest.
Once the heartbreaking discovery of their son’s fate becomes public — the struggle for answers commences as assistant district attorney — K.J. Harper — played with expertise by Clare-Hope Ashitey partners with the detective on the case — Joe “Fish” Rinaldi (Michael Mosley) to ensure that Brenton Butler’s eventual death isn’t in vain.
While the tactless police officers work tirelessly to pompously dispute any approach that could indicate their potential guilt — Latrice Butler is stuck in a black hole of despair and confusion as she not only deals with the unfathomable loss of her son — but also has to contend with the implosion of her marriage.
Actress Regina King has always possessed the uncanny ability to convey those emotions that are almost too raw to entertain — and as a result — it’s absolutely unbearable to watch.
What we see with Latrice recalls what we all imagine when Black mothers are forced to bury their young Black sons before their time — and with no appropriate closure to an event that unfairly ended without any measure of justice or vengeance against those accused.
Latrice’s major insight into the person responsible for her son’s death is the constant companion that directs her every move — and her obsession expectedly makes those around her worry about her mental stability. Her faith in God is shattered — and her warrior spirit is now primed for the duty of dealing with those who wrecked her world — in a way that is anything but conventional.
Seven Seconds — works hard to summon the destructiveness of systemized biases against the Black community by emphasizing why White police officers should be feared and loathed for their callousness and downright brutality — against the targets that carry the misplaced bullseye on their backs — like badges of dishonor.
And it’s really through the pained movements of Latrice — that we behold the potency of shock and helplessness that grief-stricken mothers of a broken system are subjected to — for all of their lives.
As a Black woman — it was impossible not to conjure the image of Samaria Rice — the mother of Tamir Rice — the twelve-year-old boy who was murdered back in 2014 — by Cleveland police while playing in a park with a toy gun. The White cops who happened on the scene — described an adult male — brandishing a gun in broad daylight — which led them to believe that their suspect was a threat.
The police officers were never indicted for their crime — and this sparked protests — which also led to Samaria Rice’s never-ending fight for justice.
By spring of 2017 — it was announced that the two officers involved in the murder of her son — Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback — were due for disciplinary actions against them. Garmback received a ten-day suspension while Loehmann was fired for lying on his job application.
Samaria Rice expressed some relief — but still pointed out her frustration at the fact that Garmback wasn’t also fired — as well as the glaring fact that Loehmann wasn’t let go because of the part he played in her son’s senseless killing. There’s also the accumulation of years that tends to take a toll on families who are living every minute with bated breath.
This is a reality that the mother of Philando Castile — Valerie Castile — has been reluctantly saddled with — ever since her son was violently killed by Jeronimo Yanez — a St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer — who pulled over the thirty-two-year-old nutrition services assistant — because of a traffic violation. Castile was in the car with his girlfriend — Diamond Reynolds and her toddler daughter — who was in the back seat. The bloody encounter which was captured on film and uploaded onto Facebook by Reynolds — showed Castile gasping his last breath after Yanez shot into the car in the presence of the child — who can be heard trying to calm her horrified mother.
In the summer of 2017 — Yanez was vindicated— and Valerie Castile publicly voiced her anger during the peaceful protest that erupted after her son’s killer was cleared of a manslaughter charge.
“The system continues to fail black people, and it will continue to fail you all. Like I said, because this happened with Philando, when they get done with us, they coming for you, for you, for you and all your interracial children.” “Y’all are next, and you will be standing up here fighting for justice just as well as I am.”
Castile’s girlfriend — Diamond Reynolds was tasked with the inconceivable task of healing herself and her baby through the climate of gross negligence — and criticism over the way she handled herself — during what was obviously a harrowing episode.
In the fall of 2017 — it was confirmed that Valerie Castile received a $3 million settlement from the city of St. Anthony — which she used to start a foundation in her son’s name— while Reynolds and her young daughter were awarded $800,000.
In response to the monetary compensation — Castile reiterated how the tragic loss of her son will always haunt those he left behind.
“While no amount of money can change what happened, bring Philando back, or erase the pain that my daughter and I continue to suffer, I do hope that closing this chapter will allow us to get our lives back and move forward.”
There are countless more testimonies of societal betrayal that end up thrusting Black families into the unwanted spotlight that shines without the dignity of a fulfilling outcome.
Erica Garner — the daughter of Eric Garner — the African-American man who was choked to death by a New York City Police Department officer back in 2014 — while being arrested — fought hard to bring Daniel Pantaleo to justice even after a grand jury refused to indict him. The pain of that double loss reignited her activism — which she passionately engaged in — until her untimely death — on December 30, 2017 — at the age of twenty-seven.
Garner died of a heart attack — but we can assume that her heart ache was closely linked to her debilitating condition. The stress of fighting a system that won’t recognize the glaring injustice that has been delivered to the ones you love is a burden that Black mothers and daughters have been cursed with.
And yet we still thrive with a level of strength and perseverance that is too often regulated to our character — even though our vulnerability is just as easily accessible.
Seven Seconds is the love letter to movements like the one Trayvon Martin’s mother — Sybrina Fulton — initiated with Circle of Mothers — in the name of her son who was murdered by a neighborhood hit man — George Zimmerman.
Zimmerman — a White man — claimed that the deadly shooting was based on how suspicious Martin appeared — walking around at night — sporting a hoodie. Martin’s killer had his day in court and was also set free.
This devastation birthed Circle of Mothers — and it’s Fulton’s way to “empower women who have experienced the loss of a child, especially due to gun violence.”
We see their faces — and notice their grief — and then they disappear after the hashtags stop trending and the media reverts back to the sex habits of the Commander-in-Chief.
But these are real women — who have experienced the very worst of what it means to be citizens of a country that can lawfully kill their children and fathers without consequences. They will spend the rest of their lives in turmoil — and no amount of money can compensate for that level of domestic terrorism.
As long as the system remains broken — our babies will continue to be eaten alive. This isn’t a trend or a TV show with an appropriate ending.