Let me just start by saying just how blown away I am after watching 416 minutes of the documentary Trial 4. One of the benefits of lockdown has been the ability to purge on documentaries – one of my all-time favourite hobbies.
As a self-proclaimed documentary connoisseur, this one is high up in the elite table; probably due to its accurate and true reflection of racism within the Criminal Justice system. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you will know this is a topic close to my heart and one I’ve spoken about on a few occasions (read ‘Law and order – The story of Marcus’).
So, let me get into what the documentary is about and why I’m giving it a full-house rating. The creepy algorithms that predict what we find interesting sent a notification to my phone recommending that I watch Trial 4. Anything with the word trial always catches my attention. The doc summary described the series as “Charged as a teen in the 1993 killing of a Boston cop, Sean K. Ellis fights to prove his innocence while exposing police corruption and systemic racism.” I thought, OK, this is definitely a bit of me.
I’m well versed on the enormous racial disparities in Criminal Justice Systems all over the world, so although I clicked play, I did so not thinking that the documentary would show me anything I hadn’t already seen or didn’t already know. Corruption within institutions and black men being on the brunt end is nothing new. As disgusting as it is, us black folk are unfortunately used to being seen as guilty until proven innocent and know that our skin makes us the perfect e-fit for criminality to many in powerful positions.
In the case of Trial 4, Sean Ellis merely being present in the same location 40 minutes prior to the killing of a white police officer set into a motion a slew of fabrications that lead to his wrongful incarceration for 22 years. At first, I didn’t quite know where the accusations would lead to or how law enforcement would build a case strong enough to be upheld in the court of law but of course every undue count stood. This spotlight review isn’t going to go into the granular details of the documentary as I don’t want to spoil the riveting twists and turns Trial 4 offers, but let me just say this, the treatment of black people by the people in place to protect us is abhorrent.
Sean Ellis’ case showed how committed some authorities can be towards their wrongs, and their objectives stop at their egos rather than at justice. The lives of black people still don’t count for a thing for some; this has manifested into a broad lack of trust towards authority. Whether it be reporting a crime, or accepting a vaccination; you will find many people of colour hesitant and non-compliant. The root of this cause is still very much deeper than those of trees.
By the end of the documentary, I was reminded just how much work there is still left to do, as well as being slapped back to the reality that other than increased people of colour showing up on our screens, there is still a way to go before change infiltrates into the places where black people stop losing their freedoms and their lives.
Trial 4 is now out on Netflix.