There are those rare films that are hard to watch but necessary. Director Wade Gardner’s Marvin Booker Was Murdered is one of those films. The documentary is making its world premiere this weekend at the Montreal International Black Film Festival. Bravo to them for bringing a film of this calibre and subject matter to us.
In 2010, homeless street preacher Marvin Booker was being booked at the Denver Detention Center. Before being led into booking by Sgt. Gomez, Marvin went to get his shoes, which he had taken off earlier in the holding area. That simple act led to him being tackled, beaten and tasered by five deputies with the final result being Marvin’s death.
His death was captured on tape and witnessed by roughly 20 people. Yet, somehow the city of Denver did not believe the five deputies were guilty of any form of negligence or abuse of power. Worse than that the five deputies continued to work on the force. The Booker family was not satisfied nor were they going to go away silently in the face of such miscarriage of justice. They hired lawyers and brought the case to civil court. What ensued showed everyone that a cover-up occurred with the city of Denver protecting the deputies and not the constitutional rights of Marvin Booker.
Even after the city coroner ruled that Marvin’s death was a homocide the city fought against that. Unbelievable. A stunning demonstration of the racial discrimination and unrest that continues in the United States. This is just one example of many. At the very end of the film Gardner shows video of another black man being beaten and killed in the same detention center less than a year after the civil victory won by the Booker family. The more things change the more they stay the same apparently.
Marvin’s last moments must have been filled with pain and fear. Why is this happening to me? Must have been running through his mind. He just wanted to get his shoes. As you watch the minutes long grainy video of the five officers physically manhandling him until his heart stopped then just dumping him in a cell feigning that they believed him to be alive, it is tough stuff. What is happening is obvious. Painful and anger inducing. How could the city of Denver try to deny what went on.
As if the beating and excessive force use was not enough, those five deputies also engaged in the covering up of what happened. They lied, colluded and even tampered with evidence by swapping out the taser used for another. Then when Marvin was in obvious distress they made no quick move to seek medical help for the dying man. Denver law enforcement’s history of excessive force is a long and shameful one. Does not seem like it is going to change either.
It is a film like this that should prompt us to action (because apparently the repeated deaths of innocent black men is not enough to spur us on). Action that brings about change. Change that ensures that all citizens, no matter their skin colour, gender, religion, culture, age, or economic situation, are guaranteed their civil rights and protection under the law.
Mavin’s story is told by the people involved and those who knew him best. Interviews with his mother, siblings, in-laws, friends, other preachers, and lawyers tell the tale. Your heart goes out to all of them due to their pain of his death being compounded by the miscarriage of justice that ensued. They tell a story that is frighteningly too common. A black man killed by the police. It acts as a warning that things like this don’t only happen in the U.S. It can (and does) happen anywhere. The frightening part is that those in a position of power (white people, police, justice system) don’t seem to agree that there is rampant racism being faced by people of colour and something has to be done. Now.
Very timely and a warning of how wrong things are going in the United States for men of colour (and all people of colour, for that matter). It is a country divided. It has always been, but under a leader who has based his entire campaign and presidency on a platform of divisiveness, it has pretty much become acceptable to trod even further on the already downtrodden.
At the post film Q&A Gardner, Marvin’s sister Elizabeth Booker-Bond, civil rights lawyer Mari Newman (who delighted the crowd by introducing herself in French), and the Reverend Timothy Tyler. Gardner told us how he dug into the story of Marvin Booker after attending the civil trial. He knew he wanted to make a film of the story an managed to make it on a shoestring budget of only $20,000. It was also made in a relatively quick (for a film) two years from beginning to end.
Gardner left us with some hope informing us that just recently the new Denver District Attourney Beth McCann is referring the case back to court to re-investigate the five deputies and their responsibility for Marvin’s death. She seems to disagree with her predecessor’s decision to file charges against them. Still some hope.