Tuesday, February 5, 2013 marked the anniversary of the weekly protests against police brutality by the Black Justice Tuesday Coalition (BJTC), a group that has protested every week in front of the Harris County Courthouse for two straight years demanding something be done about police brutality in the Greater Houston area.
One of the high-profile, police brutality incidents that became a major catalyst behind the protests, has also captured national attention. Emmy-nominated filmmaker, Keith Beauchamp, has produced a much-anticipated documentary, featuring racial profiling victim Robbie Tolan that will make its world premiere Wednesday, February 13 at 7 PM (CST) on the Investigation Discovery (ID) Network.
THE INJUSTICE FILES: HOOD OF SUSPICION
Keith Beauchamp is the Executive Producer and Host of The Injustice Files, which appears on the Investigation Discovery (ID) Network; a mystery-and-suspense network.
On his show, Beauchamp combs through records; interviews family members, witnesses and investigators; and pieces together the known facts of each case he takes on. Beauchamp attempts to interview individuals directly involved in the case, as well as potential suspects and individuals who may know who was responsible, sometimes even confronting them in their driveways after attempts to contact them for interviews prove unsuccessful.
Beauchamp, who is based in Brooklyn, decided to take on the issue of racial profiling after hearing about the Robbie Tolan incident and after hearing about 15-year old Trayvon Martin, who was killed while walking to his father’s home in Sanford, Florida.
These two incidents sparked a nationwide dialog on racial profiling practices, including “stand-your-ground” laws, which state that a person may justifiably use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of an unlawful threat. According to Beauchamp, these laws, which on their face may seem fair, have often been used to discriminate against, intimidate and even murder innocent minorities.
In his new installment, “THE INJUSTICE FILES: HOOD OF SUSPICION,” Beauchamp goes on an in-depth investigation of modern day racial profiling practices, by looking at three distinct cases that illustrate how self-defense practices discriminate against African-Americans.
ROBBIE TOLAN INCIDENT
December 31, 2008, was an unforgettable day for then 23-year old Tolan and his cousin, Anthony Cooper, as they were arriving home from making a late night run to Jack-in-the-Box. Upon pulling up in the driveway of their Bellaire home, the two young men were aggressively confronted by two Bellaire police officers; one being Sgt. Jeffrey Cotton, a white policeman.
According to Tolan, as he and his cousin walked up their driveway to go inside their home, they spotted an unidentified man coming towards them out of nowhere pointing a gun, while also holding a flashlight. Unaware that the armed man was an officer, the two young men became increasingly alarmed as they were asked to lie face down on the ground and not move.
Upon hearing all the commotion outside, Tolan’s mother and other relatives came outside to find out what was going on. Relatives claim that Tolan’s mother was being pushed against the wall by one of the officers, prompting Tolan to ask questions and seek to get answers from the officers as to what was beingdone to his mother. As a result of his questioning of the officers while on the ground, the unarmed Tolan was mercilessly shot in his chest.
Sadly, after further investigation, Tolan’s vehicle was found to have not been stolen, nor was either man found to have been armed. What makes this incident even more troubling was the fact that the license plate number that the officers entered into their computer was the wrong one, leading them to make the wrong call on the wrong alleged suspects.
A grand jury indicted and acquitted Sgt. Cotton, after only charging him with aggravated assault. Tolan and his family sued Sgt. Cotton, Bellaire police officer John C. Edwards, the mayor of Bellaire, the Police chief and several others for the incident, claiming that their civil and constitutional rights had been violated.
Justice for Tolan was still not served, when on April 2, 2012, U.S. District Judge Melinda Harmon granted a motion for summary judgment by Cotton and Edwards, who were seeking qualified immunity in the case, ruling that the Tolan family had not established that the two officers had violated their constitutional rights.
In her lengthy ruling on the case, Harmon wrote, “Under the doctrine of qualified immunity, public officials, such as police officers, acting within the scope of their authority are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional law.”
It’s been a little over four years since Tolan was sitting in a Houston hospital bed with a bullet lodged in his liver, but the pain and outcome of that ordeal still stings. Tolan believes that it is unfair that his baseball career has been stifled and his health compromised because of a senseless act of racial profiling and stereotyping.
“Sgt. Cotton got acquitted and was able to go back to his normal life and career,” says Tolan. “I was a good kid with goals and dreams like everyone else. I had aspirations of being a professional baseball player like my father and that dream has been stunted because I have a bullet lodged in my liver. How fair is that?”
Tolan is truly thankful that God spared his life and has not allowed the incident to slow him down or keep him quiet.
“African-American young men have always been the subject of attacks in America,” said Tolan. “I don’t want more to have to die, or go through what I went through, in order to deal with this epidemic.”
Tolan has become an advocate for the rights of those oppressed by law enforcement and the judicial system and he believes this documentary is just one way to get the word out to a broader audience.
WHO IS BEAUCHAMP?
Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Beauchamp found his calling as a filmmaker through his documentary about the story of 14-year-old Emmett Till, who in August 1955 was abducted and tortured to death because he allegedly whistled at a white woman. Till, who was beaten, shot, and thrown in a river, was the catalyst behind the early civil rights movement. Suspects were arrested for the murder, but they were all acquitted by all-white juries.
Beauchamp’s research eventually led him to create the documentary film, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, and the reopening of the case by the United States Department of Justice in May 2004.
Beauchamp first encountered the Emmett Till story at age ten while looking through an issue of Jet magazine. In 1996 he started his own research, and found microfilm of articles which listed witnesses who had not been questioned by police, and references to uncharged participants in the murder, besides J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant, who were found not guilty of Till’s murder, but later publicly confessed. Through the help of other researchers, Beauchamp contacted living witnesses, but he says that it was some years before they trusted him enough to speak on camera. Researching and creating the film took nine years.
Decades later, the case was re-opened by the FBI because Beauchamp uncovered new information, bolstered by his ability as a filmmaker to reach deep into the communities where these crimes occurred and connect with potential witnesses who otherwise might not come forward. Since his experience making The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, Beauchamp has become passionate about seeking justice for these families and assisting the FBI by developing new leads for some of their unsolved cases from this troubled chapter in American history.
Beauchamp found a deep connection and states that he almost suffered a similar fate to Emmett Till in 1989.
“As a young man at a dance in a Louisiana nightclub, a bouncer and an undercover police officer accosted me for dancing with a white girl,” said Beauchamp. “I was told to ‘mess with my own kind,’ and after being dragged outside, I was severely beaten. Two uniformed officers, who were also at the dance, grabbed me and took me back inside to a secluded room, where I was handcuffed to a chair and severely beaten further by the undercover officer. The abuse only stopped when the police realized that my close friend, who had come with me to the dance, was the son of a major official at the local sheriff’s department.”
Beauchamp is involved in other film work, but credits the story of Emmett Till with occupying and shaping his life in a major way, and his relationship with Mamie Till, Emmett mother’s, with inspiring him to create the film. His story was featured in various television shows including “60 Minutes” with Ed Bradley.
WHY TACKLE RACIAL PROFILING?
Beauchamp expressed that he has a strong passion to ramp up the pressure on everyone involved in this radical culture of racial profiling and has a sincere desire to see racial profiling be eradicated indefinitely, so that the death of Trayvon Martin and the racial profiling incidents and fatalities of many others will not be in vain.
Beauchamp is hopeful that this documentary lights of fire under people and brings serious attention to this issue, while bringing everyone, regardless of race, together in solidarity to help others who have or could possibly suffer the same fate if things don’t quickly change.
“I have witnessed a number of so-called movements that ended with no result, when it was no longer the “in” thing to do,” said Beauchamp. “We, as people - no matter what color - must not let this moment pass us by. For the past 17 years of my life, I devoted my passion to helping those who can no longer speak for themselves: the young, the old, the persecuted - those who have been affected by injustice.”
Beauchamp states that after hearing about the Robbie Tolan case, he was and still is baffled at how a young man from a prominent family can be wrongly profiled because of his race and then brought to the brink of death by the careless act of someone who has been trained to protect citizens, not harm them.
“The practice of racial profiling has been going on for generations, and there have been many lost souls who have died from this immoral practice,” said Beauchamp. “However, the time has come to evaluate our humanity, to shift the paradigm of the Robbie Tolan and Trayvon Martin tragedies to something more positive.”
Again, THE INJUSTICE FILES: HOOD OF SUSPICION makes its world premiere Wednesday, February 13 at 7 PM (CST) on the Investigation Discovery (ID) Network.
A free screening of the documentary will be shown at 7:00 pm on Friday, February 8, 2013, at the Kingdom Builders’ Center, 6011 West Orem Drive, Houston, TX 77085.
To register for the free screening, you can do so at www.kbchouston.com/injustice.