If I told you that a 15-year-old black kid was killed by a white police officer, you probably wouldn't be as shocked as you should be. If I explained how, along with his colleagues, the officer tried to cover up the death on the assumption that the kid was 'probably a banger' (in a gang), I doubt you'd be particularly taken a back by that fact either.
It's a depressing normality that, against the backdrop of the recent investigation into the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was shot at 20 times by police officers in his back garden, is only settling deeper in to our understanding of how race relations and the American justice system seem to be operating.
This innate sentiment of racially-charged injustice and mistrust of the legal system is the undercurrent that drives Netflix's new ten-part series Seven Seconds. In it, the 15-year-old is called Brenton Butler. He's not shot, but rather killed in the opening scene of the very first episode, the victim of a hit-and-run by Jersey City Police Department's narcotics newbie and expectant father, Pete Jablonski. He's distracted on the phone, trying to get hold of his pregnant wife, when he hits Butler and on discovering the boy's bike crushed beneath his car, calls his cop colleagues for help.
'They are going to fuck you for Ferguson, Chicago, Baltimore', corrupt captain Mike DiAngelo tells Jablonski, referencing real life black-victims-killed-at-the-hands-of-white-police cases when he and two other officers arrive at the scene of his crime. Jablonski wants to turn himself in, DiAngelo doesn't think there's any point. 'I want you to think about what kind of father you’d be behind bars', he adds.
What follows is an elaborate cover up lead by DiAngelo, an agonizing period of grief by Brenton's church-going parents, and a fractured investigation into the Brenton's case by KJ Harper; the black, female assistant prosecutor who is accompanied by Joe 'Fish' Rinaldi; a white, male, wisecracking detective.
Watch The Trailer For Netflix's 7 Seconds
The Cast And Characters Of Netflix's Seven Seconds
The cast is brilliant. Regina King plays Brenton's mother Latrice and in preparation for the show, she and writer/producer Veena Sud spoke with mothers who had lost their children to gun violence. Brenton's father, Isaiah who is played by Russell Hornsby, tries to lean on his faith and the practicalities of work and finances to deal with his otherwise mute grief.
Officer Pete Jablonski is the good cop who entered the profession with that Hollywood-typical yearning to 'do some good in the world', who's turned bad by his hardened and inherently prejudice colleagues. Fish, the deeply problematic divorcee who has also recently moved to Jersey City, acts as the yin to assistant prosecutor KJ's yang.
KJ is undoubtedly the stand out character to take note of. In the third episode she tells us that her name doesn't come from anywhere, but rather she was encouraged to take it so to be taken on merit alone (rather than as a woman) on her applications for jobs within the male heavy judiciary system.
We first meet her drunk, sipping gin at a bar alone before slurring her way through a karaoke song. KJ is a kind of functioning alcoholic who spends much of the series battling demons from her complicated past and trying to make up for the previous cases she didn't give any real attention to, and in her we find an overdue television heroine who happens to be a women of colour. She's someone who is neither the lowly 'help' nor the all conquering power house. Instead KJ is a refreshingly complex and imperfect woman who, along with the audience, desperately tries to make sense of an injustice that America's legal system, much like in real life, fails to resolve.
Seven Seconds, A True Story?
The series isn't based on a real story, but many elements are plucked from the reality of the power struggles and race-relations that have dominated headlines for years.
'I was inspired to write Seven Seconds after turning on the news every night, watching in horror all the seemingly endless stories of police violence. There were so many questions, and I needed to understand the story behind the headlines', Veena Sud explained in a press release ahead of the series' release. 'How does something as systematic as this happen, over and over and over? That was the real heart of Seven Seconds. What I saw on TV, in front of my eyes, made telling this story crucial and necessary.'
Although their stories don't match up directly, the show's Brenton Butler character shares a name with a teenager of the same age who was charged with the murder of a woman in Florida back in 2000. It transpired that he was coerced into a confession of murder by the investigating police officers and was later acquitted. Nevertheless the use of his name is one of the many ways that *Seven Seconds *lingers on the border of fiction and brutal reality.
Seven Seconds is available to view on Netflix now.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.