When I went to Full Frame, I didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, I had watched documentaries before, and I had enjoyed them. But that didn’t mean I was a connoisseur by any standard, and I had never felt they were any better than other movies. When Mr. Haynes told us on Friday that we would go into a movie skeptical of its value, and come out with our minds blown, I didn’t believe really believe him. But the documentary Crime + Punishment made me realize just how right he was.
The film follows a group of 12 NYPD officers in the process of filing a class action lawsuit against their employer, the New York Police Department, for the illegal use of racial quotas. With the usage of hidden cameras and microphones, Stephen Maing helped the subjects capture their supervisors making statements about needing an arrest for the month, accusing them of performing a lower level than their peers because they wouldn’t make unnecessary arrests. The blatancy of these quotas was shown throughout the film, with recordings and documents to back it up. It was infuriating to see the retaliation against these brave individuals, as their careers suffered in the system because they didn’t conform to these expectations, a situation which was only exacerbated when they filed the lawsuit. One pregnant mother was accused of seeking to take time off of work when she went into premature labor, simply because she was part of the suit. Police corruption had always seemed like a distant issue to me: it was something than existed, but wasn’t widespread. This film brought me back down to earth. It was heartbreaking, moving, and eye-opening all at once. The system is a monolith, as was explained by one of the officers, Edwin Raymond, during the Q&A after the film. He analogized the system to a machine, with several different, moving parts that all contribute to the final result. He knew that he only had one shot to change something before he would get shut down and silenced. He thought he needed to end the quota system so that he could change how initial contact was implemented by officers, because that would trickle down into issues of police brutality. But a widespread change in policing culture is needed, a problem that is much harder to address.
I think everyone ought to see this film at some point. Not only because the message is powerful, but because their story is ending as we speak. The lawsuit was effectively shut down by the court system in 2017, and there might not be another opportunity to change things for a century. If we let the story die, we empower racist entities further. I am not the one harmed by this system. I have probably been inadvertently helped by white privilege dozens of times in my life. But a large group of people are being harmed, and we cannot let that be. My eyes were opened to the sheer injustice by this one film, and I think any film which does that is a work of art we can’t let die.