5 Netflix Documentaries (Will Make You Too Angry To Chill)
5 Netflix Documentaries (Will Make You Too Angry To Chill) published by Evanvinh
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Posted on 2016-05-07
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The Central Park Five
Let's talk about the police! Crime documentaries about innocent people who were wrongly incarcerated are all the rage right now. If you watch enough of them, you'll notice there's one thing that happens in almost every single one: At some point, someone is going to confess to a crime they almost certainly didn't commit. People who refuse to acknowledge that police wrongdoing is even a thing, despite years of video and rap album evidence to the contrary, love to lean on that one point. Why would an innocent person confess to something they didn't do?
Well, it's because they get talked into it. Coerced confessions are the lifeblood that keeps the "Holy shit, let's try to get this innocent person out of prison" industry booming. They are the entire reason the state of Illinois abolished the death penalty (more on that later). They are literally why documentaries like The Central Park Five exist.
Centered around one of the most notorious and widely-publicized crimes of the '80s, The Central Park Five is a case study how terribly the justice system goes awry when police start tricking people into saying things they shouldn't in the name of "solving" a case. The five individuals in question were all minors, which didn't stop the police from releasing their names to the public well before they were even charged with any actual crimes. No worries, though, because in short order, all five had either confessed to a heinous crime or been implicated by the rest of their friends in said crime.
Yeah, they gave vastly different accounts of what happened, which should raise a red flag in a just society. Unfortunately, we're talking about the NYPD in the '80s. Being fair wasn't really their thing. I doubt it was any police force's "thing" prior to the invention of camera phones. Don't fret, though, because this documentary does have a happy ending ... provided you consider years of undue incarceration that leads to a multi-million-dollar settlement with the city of New York a happy ending.
The police certainly didn't.
I'm leaving a lot of details out, because my ultimate aim here is to compel you to watch these documentaries, as opposed to completely spoiling them for you. So give this one a watch sometime and fill yourself with the righteous fury of a third-year college student working for the Innocence Project. Then watch this next one and understand that, sometimes, those people who claim to be interested in helping are total monsters too.
#1. A Murder In The Park
Remember when I mentioned Illinois abolishing the death penalty in the last entry? A Murder In The Park is why I brought it up. The Chicago PD's longstanding policy of coercing (sometimes with words, sometimes worse) false confessions out of people brought the state a lot of unfortunate attention. The case at the center of A Murder In The Park is the one that finally tipped the scales and prompted then-Governor George Ryan to end the death penalty once and for all in Illinois.
In 1982, a couple was shot and killed in a park in Chicago. Eyewitness testimony sent a man named Anthony Porter to death row for the crime. That would've been the end of it, if not for the Northwestern Illinois University Innocence Project. Spearheaded by a professor named David Protess and his team of journalism students, the group sought out questionable cases in the hopes of setting wrongly convicted people free. Somehow, they landed on the case of Anthony Porter.
In time, they revealed that the eyewitness who sealed Porter's fate not only recanted his testimony, but wouldn't have even been able to see what he claimed he saw from the spot he was standing in when the crime occurred, due to several obstructions that would have blocked his line of sight. Even better, they had a man named Alstory Simon on video confessing to the crime. That video was made public, and without doing even a cursory review of the circumstances that led to that confessions, the state released Porter a few days later and commenced building a case against Simon.
Here's the problem: Anthony Porter was almost certainly guilty. It wasn't one eyewitness who testified to seeing Porter commit the crime; there were five. Only one of them "recanted" their testimony, and it eventually came to light that it was more like the Innocence Project said, "Is it possible you were wrong?" and he was like, "Yeah, I guess anything is possible." None of the other witnesses took back their testimony, but it's not like they could have if they wanted to, because the students didn't bother interviewing the other witnesses. Oh, and the obstructions which they claimed would've prevented the witness from seeing the crime weren't even in place at the time of the murders.
Stupid '90s millennials.
So how on Earth did they get an innocent man to confess to this crime? Easy! They coerced a confession out of him! If you're picturing a duo of college sophomores going good cop / bad cop on a potential murderer, I'd invite you to kindly get your head out of the movies. They didn't do it; instead, they sent a Chicago-based private investigator named Paul Ciolino to do the job. He all but admits on camera that he used the exact same tactics the Chicago PD became notorious for using to compel innocent people to implicate themselves in crimes they didn't commit. His most famous quote about the interrogation is, "We just bull-rushed him, and mentally he couldn't recover." Hooray for justice!
Unfortunately, the story just gets exponentially sadder and more terrifying from there. I encourage you to watch the entire thing to get all the details for yourself. All that said, since we're on the topic of confessions, I have one of my own to make right now: Despite what the title of the column may imply, this particular documentary is not on Netflix. You'll have to steal someone's Showtime login details to watch it. Sorry.
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