ByKit Simpson Browne, writer at
Writer-at-large. Bad jokes aplenty. Can be gently prodded on Twitter at @kitsb1
Kit Simpson Browne

There are some news stories that go beyond an awesome new superhero costume, or the coolest trailer we've seen in months. It's not that they're inherently more important - no matter what we may personally think, that's ultimately a decision we each make for ourselves. Instead, there are some stories that speak to a different part of us - the part of our lives where the movies we love, and the real world events that effect each and every one of us come together, and collide.

The recent death of Eric Garner, a 43 year old Staten Island man, and the director Spike Lee's response, is that sort of story.

Last week, Garner was stopped on the street, suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes. As he protested being handcuffed, five NYPD officer engaged him, in what rapidly escalated to them smothering him. One of the officers placed him in an illegal chokehold. As they did so, Garner repeated the same words, nine times: "I can't breathe'.

Tragically, Garner went into cardiac arrest, and died at Richmond University Medical Center shortly after.

The controversy over his death and the implications it raises regarding the NYPD's use of force have been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. The underlying tragedy - that this has happened before, and will likely happen again - has, however, been reinforced in devastating fashion by Spike Lee.

Lee has released a short video, in which the moment that Garner was engaged by the NYPD is intercut with a strikingly similar scene from his 1989 movie Do the Right Thing.

It's hard to watch, but also about as powerful a video as you'll see this year:

That scene from Do the Right Thing? That's 25 years old.

It, in turn, was inspired by the real life case of Michael Stewart in 1983.

It's been two and a half decades since Lee first stood up and sought to shine a light on a particularly horrific form of injustice. It's now been less than a week since it last happened.

Now, movies don't always have a lesson for us to learn buried within them - and they don't always have a moral that needs to be taken away after watching.

Sometimes, though, they do - and when 25 years of progress doesn't see that lesson learned, sometimes we all need a reminder.

Of how history can repeat itself, perhaps - but also, as Lee's video implies, that it shouldn't always have the opportunity to.

via Indiewire


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