WireTap

Every Mother's Son

“Police brutality wasn't new to us as an issue, but when Amadou Diallo was killed, we found that we had to do something for our own sanity,” say the directors of a new documentary running this week on POV.
They say losing a child is the worst kind of pain a mother can feel, so losing a child to police brutality must be even worse.

To get a better understanding of police brutality; what it is and how it affects families, producers and directors Kelly Anderson and Tami Gold made “Every Mother's Son,” a documentary about three mothers who sons were killed by New York City Police officers.

The idea for the film came to them after the highly publicized shooting of Amadou Diallo in 1999. Diallo, an immigrant from Liberia, was killed in a hail of gunfire by four New York City police officers that said that he fit the description of a known rapist.

“Police brutality wasn't new to us as an issue, but when Amadou Diallo was killed, we found that we had to do something for our own sanity,” said Anderson.

Their need for involvement, brought Anderson and Gold to Diallo’s memorial service with a video camera. They talked to community members and others at the services, and came away with the idea of telling the story of police brutality through the eyes of the mothers who had lost their children.

“We realized that looking at police brutality through the lens of mothers would be emotionally powerful,” said Anderson. “ We also chose three mothers who were transformed by the experience, and had real ideas for how to change policing.”

Public consciousness of police brutality has increased in recent years but Anderson and Gold believe that the issue is still a relevant one.

“Even with all the evidence in these cases, and the evidence of cover ups by police officers involved, there still was no way for these families to get justice through the courts. We're not naive, but the extent of the problem was overwhelming and continues to be.”

Early in the process of making the film Gold and Anderson met Iris Baez. Baez a Puerto Rican mother of 11, was thrust into the role of leader and activist when her son, Anthony, was killed by a police officer in 1994. Officer Francis Livoti of the New York City police department strangled Anthony after a football hit Livoits’ police car.

“We were inspired by the transformation that had taken place in [Baez],” said Gold. “She was somebody who had never been an activist before this happened to her.”

The film also fallows Kadiatou Diallo, who came to this country after the death of her son and decided to stay and fight for justice, and Doris Busch Boskey. Busch Boskey son Gary, a Hasidic Jew, was praying one evening when the police knocked on his door and proceeded to spray him with pepper spray. Holding a small prayer hammer that was later said to be seen as a threat, Gary went into a blind panic that ended in him being shot by the police officers.

Brought together by personal tragedy, these three women chose to work together against the political and social causes that resulted in the death of their children.

“The three stories didn't touch us only for their individual merit, but for their collective message. The fact that these women came from such different places – one from West Africa, one a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, and one a Jewish woman from Long Island, made their coming together very compelling and inspirational,” says Gold.

Getting the women involved in the project was fairly easy says the filmmakers.

“These are people who feel a great injustice was done to them, and they recognize that their strongest tool is their voice. Because they haven't gotten justice, they are eager to tell their story.”

But making sure they knew that this project was different from other stories on their sons deaths took some time.

“In the beginning, we were just seen as two of many journalists asking them questions,” say Anderson and Gold. “But after the news teams left, we were still there. And so we got to know them on a personal level and they started to learn that we were telling a different type of story, from a mother's point of view. As we stayed the course, they learned about our process, and began to see how this could be a collaboration between us all,” they added.

Anderson and Gold made many attempts to interview the police officers involved in the three cases but were unable to do so and felt that the lack of response from the officers adds to the power of the film.

“The fact that they all declined is part of our story because it reflects the 'Blue Wall of Silence' that protects police officers,” said Anderson . “Every Mother's Son is about the mothers and their fight, but it's also about the fact that the lack of transparency in policing has become normalized.”

Gold wants the film to teach people that the problem of police brutality is not just a problem of a few bad cops, but is a systemic problem.

“Many of the problems facing us ... have to do with policies that put police officers in situations where abuses are likely to take place. We would like Americans who don't live in poor, urban areas to have a sense of what people in these communities experience from the police on a daily basis.”

“Ultimately, we want "Every Mother's Son" to move beyond mothers, to speak to Americans first and foremost as citizens—citizens who have an obligation to one another to make policing fair as well as effective.”

The duo also says that they want people to be motivated by the movie to get involved in efforts to reduce police brutality.

“We hope that this film will motivate viewers to take action to promote community policing, and to push for the creation of independent civilian review boards with enforcement capability and for the creation of independent prosecutor positions where they do not exist,” says Anderson.

“Every Mothers Son” will air on PBS on August 17. Check your local listings and visit the POV website for more information.
Chinyere Tutashinda, 21, is an intern for WireTap magazine.