This article appears in our 2017 Winter issue, Chaos. Subscribe today!
Several unarmed Black Americans have been murdered by police since I first watched Profiled, a documentary by Kathleen Foster about police brutality, and I wonder how many more will be killed by the time this review hits the stands. The full-length documentary follows families of victims of police violence in New York as they fight for justice for their loved ones, connecting their cases to those that have received international attention thanks to widely shared footage of the murders and the work of the Black Lives Matter movement. While a few received settlements, most of these families didn’t see any accountability in their cases. Still, they lend their efforts to the wider struggle against racist police violence.
“For so many years, it was just one family fighting alone. But when we joined forces together, it was powerful,” says a relative of the late Anthony Baez, who was killed by police in the Bronx in 1994. Now, with the Black Lives Matter movement thrusting police violence to the forefront of the national conversation, these families see a chance to seek justice on a wider scale.
The film focuses on the cases of Kimani Gray and Shantel Davis in New York, using their stories to study anti-Black racism and its history in the United States, particularly the ways the police and media rush to demonize victims while the bodies are still warm. “She was dehumanized. The media said she was a mastermind criminal,” says Davis’s sister, Natasha Duncan, who has been fighting for accountability since Davis was shot to death following a car accident in 2012. In the film, Joseph L. Graves Jr., an evolutionary biologist and the author of The Race Myth, breaks down how the narrative of Black people’s inherent criminality and inferiority was formed to justify chattel slavery and, ever since, the oppression of Black people.
While the film succeeds in providing firsthand accounts of these cases, with a scope so wide, it can feel a little distracted at times, jumping from one issue to another without a clear arc in place. The end also leaves questions open about where viewers and activists should focus energies in regard to these issues. But the film succeeds in establishing the problem and amplifying the voices of those directly affected, voices that might otherwise be lost to us.