Race to Execution was a poignant film about the devastating effects racial prejudice plays in determining the fate of those accused of capital crimes in America. The stories of Madison Hobley and Robert Tarver left me haunted by the unscrupulous nature of the way their cases were tried, and distressed by the frequency of how similar cases are handled across the country.
One disturbing scene that lingered with me long after the film was Madison’s personal account of the verbal and physical abuse he endured at the hands of police. At one point he says: “They said they didn’t care who did it. As far as they were concerned, I was a nigger and I did it and they had me. One officer stood behind me and held me while the other officer hit me in the stomach. And then one of them got a plastic typewriter cover and put it over my head.”
A clip from Juror Number Six explored the role the media plays in producing and reinforcing stereotypical images of criminals. This piece resonated most with the audience of mainly reporters and journalism students at the San Francisco screening last Thursday, and fostered a lively discussion about the responsibility journalists have in curbing this trend. Panelist and filmmaker Rachel Lyon cited the O.J. Simpson trial as a tipping point of media sensationalism of race and murder. Co-panelist Audrey Herron shared startling anecdotes of how she’s seen negative media representations manifested in our legal system. And a former San Francisco Chronicle reporter in the audience summed up the evening by applauding the films as being some of the best counter-narratives to biased reporting that he’s seen.
I walked away from this documentary with a better understanding of how the death penalty is used disproportionately against African-Americans, the poor, and the powerless. I believe this film will leave viewers longing for true justice on behalf of the marginalized in our society.