Open Facebook on your phone, turn on the television to just about any channel, crack a newspaper; it would seem that every morning, while we sip our preferred AM beverage, we hear about another incident of police brutality in the African American community. It is a pyroclastic flow that’s only picking up speed.
Remarkably — and sickeningly — our abysmal penal system hasn’t grown out of its racially charged temper tantrums through decades of progressive movements and promising developments.
Crown Heights is the story of an immigrant from Trinidad living in New York when he is wrongfully accused of and incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) was just 18-years-old when he was detained by police.
Incredulous and panic-stricken, Colin told everyone willing to listen — and even those who weren’t — that he was innocent. Meanwhile, in the maelstrom of his duress, his best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha), spent every waking hour tracking down potential witnesses and mostly unhelpful police and legal support — putting tremendous strain on his own personal life.
Everyone needs a friend like Carl. Not even fully aware of the abhorrent treatment Colin was receiving in prison, Carl poured his heart and soul into finding the justice that his friend deserved.
Unsure of where else to turn, Carl meets with Antoinette (Natalie Paul), a childhood friend who may have helpful information to assist in the case. Carl takes her to see Colin and — though he’s falling apart — sometimes we just need something or someone to come along at just the right time, brush us off, and tell us everything is going to be alright.
In the years after being locked up, Colin would face a maddening trial and what seemed to be nothing but dead ends disguised as sovereignty. Flanked by middle-aged white men who would stand before a judge and bully confessions out of kids — now adults — who may or may not have seen what actually happened, he was running out of options and — worst of all — hope.
It isn’t difficult — even for a moment — to believe that this film is based on true events. That said, it is quite trying to watch at times with that rolling around the back of your mind.
The film, written and directed by Matt Ruskin, and adapted from a This American Life podcast — while set in the 80s and 90s — is a startling revelation of what the legal proceedings were then, and what they are now; strikingly similar. The ensemble cast gives a transcendent performance while Ruskin captures the delicacy of human nature.
This film is necessary and pure of heart. The story is magnificently told and charactarizes violence not only between law enforcement and prisoners, but also, the malaise that breeds among the accused.
Colin Warner didn’t receive the fair treatment one is promised and owed in this country until Carl put previously ignored information into the right hands. It was taken from there to an even bigger platform — the media. It wasn’t until important men in suits were going to get in trouble for treating an innocent man like a convicted criminal that justice was served.
We’re staring down the barrel of lifetimes — Colin’s, ours, our children’s — subject to the same news reports, outrage, and lives lost, day in and day out, if we don’t do something. The state of our nation can’t improve until the people in charge do better. I realize I’m on the brink of a diatribe and I don’t want to take you down that rabbit hole.
Crown Heights is a testament to our unwavering and crooked legal system. It is a powerful and critical illustration of what was happening behind closed doors nearly 40 years ago, some of which still goes on today.