7 Seconds: Truth is Murky


There has been an interesting phenomenon that has occurred in the last 10 years or so—the golden age of television. This happened while we never expected it. We were looking elsewhere and a miracle occurred. John Lennon was right about that. Often television is now better than the movies. Wonders don’t quit coming.

There have been a series of outstanding television shows, particularly series.  Series give film makers the time to do it right.  Haste makes waste. That is part of the problem with the cinema. Television sets that right.

Some of the dramatic series that I believe were outstanding include the following: Breaking Bad, Mad Men, True Detective(Season 1 only), The Killing, and above all The Wire. There were no doubt others that I missed.  I only saw some of them. Now there is one I can add to that short list—Seven Seconds. Like The Killing, 7 Seconds was produced by Veena Cabreros-Sud.She was born in Canada, if that matters.

The series follows what happens after an accident. It was not a murder of a young black man by a cop. It was an accident. A young police officer got a call that his wife was going to the hospital to give birth to a son. Earlier his wife had delivered a still born child. The police officer was getting the message as he drove his car. He was rushing to the hospital. He was distracted and he drove into something. He did not even see what he hit. It turned out to be a young black boy on a bike. The bike was the type used by a black gang. The boy had a criminal record for taking drugs.  The boy might have been a gang member. The truth as always was murky. Isn’t it always murky?

4 white police officers in a prestige drug crime squad quickly decide to do nothing.  They assist the young police officer in avoiding responsibility. They also do nothing to help the poor boy lying in the ditch. They leave the scene of the accident. They don’t want to be caught. The young boy is lying on the ground in winter in a park. The real story is what happens following that.

It is often said that the police don’t tolerate a charge against one of them. Any prosecutor who launches such a charge will find that the police won’t in the future cooperate with any investigations led by that prosecutor.

One dogged police officer starts investigating the case with a surly lack of enthusiasm. As another cynical police officer told her, “Remember the dead don’t need any answers.”  True, but the family of the dead want answers. The public wants answers. And they are entitled to them. Against his own better judgement the cynical police officer comes to pursue the case with vigor, particularly after a young junkie witness is killed by the police.

Yet, the lawyer who represents the police officer says to the press, “What we are witnessing is nothing less than a witch hunt against the Jersey City Police Department. One we are accustomed to seeing in Baltimore, Chicago, and New York. The list goes on. Every police officer in America is at risk of the becoming the next scapegoat for the racial ills of our society, and political correctness run amok. It’s a sham. It’s a sham. Thank you. ” The police association hired her as hired gun to say exactly that. This is their party line.

The question of course is whether or not she is right. Many believe exactly that. Police are important. We need them. They play a vital role in keeping life safe. At the same time while some of them are scapegoats, some of them are perpetrators. Yes, the truth is murky.

When the police association lawyer meets the 4 police officers, for whom she clearly has nothing but contempt, notwithstanding her grand statements, she tells them they must stick together. She tells them, “Alone you’re just an idiot with his hands caught down his pants. Together, you’re cops. Together they have to put the entire police department on trial. And no one ever convicts the entire police force.”  Good legal advice; bad moral advice. Lawyers only get paid for legal advice.  Then she adds, “Welcome to the criminal justice system gentlemen.  No one gives a fuck about the truth.”

Since Aristotle we have known that every tragedy has a hero with a flaw.  Here everyonehas a flaw. Each character has a flaw. Each character also has some good. No one is entirely good or entirely bad. Each character is complex. Each character resists stereotypes.  This is what makes the series interesting. Each character is worth looking at. Each earns some empathy from us.

The most interesting character in the series is the young black female prosecutor. She is a drunk. She lacks confidence. She is not a shining star. She gets into an ugly bar room encounter with some police officers and shows a very ugly side of her own character. She presumes she is better than them, entirely without justification. Someone calls her “a fucking idiot with a badge.” Yet she is the tragic hero. She is all that the family of the young deceased boy have to bring justice for their dead boy.

The prosecutor appears to be a pretty weak instrument for justice. Yet somehow she at least brings the victim to life so the jury she him. She also asks us to see the officer for what he was in his 7 seconds after he realized he had killed a young boy. Maybe the officer knew he was black. Maybe not. Truth is murky. She also brought the victim to life. At least the mother and father saw that she made a real person of an impersonal victim—carelessly labelled a black boy with a criminal record, obviously having received what he deserved. She brought him to life for one shining moment.

I don’t want to give the ending away. I want you to watch the series to get that. Let me just say that it is far from clear that justice is served. We also learn that revenge is never sweet. We do learn that justice is blind. Is that a good thing? Justice is complicated. Justice is murky. So is injustice.


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