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Documentary Playlist: I Can’t Breathe


“I Can’t Breathe” – Eric Garner

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a 43-year-old African American New Yorker, was harassed by two police officers under the pretence that Garner was illegally selling single cigarettes. After a series of comments expressing his frustration with their unwarranted persecution Garner was forced into a chokehold by Officer Daniel Pantaleo, a tactic banned by the New York City Police Department. He managed to choke out the phrase, “I can’t breathe!” eleven times before he was pronounced dead by the city medical examiners an hour later.

Garner’s murder has been but one of several recent high profile cases in which police took the lives of unarmed black men – the shootings of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri and Oscar Grant III by Officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, California remain burning examples of democratic injustice. Not only does each case observe a distinct failure to do one’s civic duty to protect and serve while keeping in mind one’s need for probable cause to take action, but more dishearteningly each highlights the fact that racism continues to haunt America and that the judicial systems in place, meant to yield justice for those who’ve been wronged, have been corrupted by this lingering racism. In response, nation wide protests have broken out, masses of people staging “die-ins” while wielding the phrases “I Can’t Breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” as calls to action.

What’s important to remember is that these demonstrations are not just enraged responses to specific injustices, but public reminders that democracy is constructed around social action and that America should be a place where one’s race should not make them a target for suspicion and fear. Black lives do matter, and filmmakers around the world have contributed to this conversation with their varying films that dare to ask how these prejudices have come about, how as a culture we’ve tried to overcome them, and why we need to look to the future for reasons to continue to seek equality and justice for people of all colors.

These six films shine a light on racial injustice and those who stand against it.

The Central Park Five

Examines the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a woman in Central Park. After having spent between 6 and 13 years each in prison, a serial rapist confessed to the crime, exonerating the convicted innocent men.

The Black Power Mixtape

Essential viewing to anyone concerned with contemporary U.S. history, this film is a compilation of footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists following the American Black Power Movement between 1967 and 1975.

The House I Live In

For 40 years, the War on Drugs has accounted for more than 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer and damaged poor communities globally. Hear the stories of people from all levels of America’s drug war.

The Interrupters

The moving and surprising story of three brave people who aim to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed. This film is an intimate view of violence, its causes, and its interrupters.

American Promise

A 13-year documentary journey following two black American boys from kindergarten through high school graduation at one of the most prestigious private schools in the U.S.

Fire in Babylon

The fast-bowling, fired-up West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 80s – one of the most gifted teams in sports history – triumphs over its colonial masters, rewriting the rulebook in the sport originally handed down from master to slave.

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