Crime + Punishment (2018) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): Against a systemic injustice

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Documentary film “Crime + Punishment”, which is currently available on Hulu, exposes and examines a serious injustice in the system which is supposed to protect and serve people. Mainly via a group of brave people determined to fight against this huge systemic problem, the documentary vividly shows us how it has been prevalent in the system for many years, and its sobering presentation of corruption and inequity is often quite alarming to say the least.

In the beginning, we meet Sandy Gonzales, a Latino police officer who works in the 40th Precinct located in a neighborhood of Bronx in New York City. As presented through a phone conversation between him and director Stephen Maing, Gonzales has been pressured a lot by his direct superior as he refuses to increase his number of arrests in contrast to many other police officers in his police station, and we soon come to see how he is deliberately punished for that. He is ordered to stand alone on a neighborhood street for hours during one cold winter day, and he even receives a reprimand for a trivial matter involved with his winter cap.

We also meet several other NYC police officers who have been pressured and retaliated for the same reason. Edwin Raymond, a young black police officer who works in Transit Police District 32 located in a neighborhood of Brooklyn in New York City, has done everything required for his promotion, but he has always been pushed away just because he simply cannot arrest anybody for filling his quota of arrests as demanded by his direct superior. He protested about that in front of his direct superior, but, as revealed from the excerpt of a secretly recorded conversation, his direct superior did not give a damn about that while indirectly pressuring him further.

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For Derrick Waller, a seasoned police officer who works in the 77th Precinct located in a neighborhood of the Crown Heights in New York City, he has been quite familiar with illegal quota practices for a long time. Several years ago, he sent a piece of police department document to a local newspaper for exposing it, and it surely drew lots of attention at that time, but neither the New York City Police Department (NYPD) nor the city administration did anything about that. Sure, quota practices are officially banned, but, as pointed out at one point in the documentary, criminal summons arrest-related fees have contributed quite a lot to the annual budget of the city administration, and that is the main reason why the high-ranking officials of NYPD and the city administration have turned a blind eye to illegal quota practices.

The documentary also points out how this serious illegal activity committed by NYPD has damaged many minority communities in New York City. For examples, Blacks and Latinos receive summonses five times more often than Whites, and the documentary later shows us the infuriating situation of a Latino lad named Pedro Hernandez. who has been incarcerated for almost a year after unjustly arrested for a shooting incident he was not responsible for. There is not any incriminating evidence against him, but the prosecution keeps him being held in the Rikers Island Prison just for plea bargain, and Hernandez’s mother is certainly angered by this injustice.

Fortunately, she has someone to help her, and he is Manuel ‘Manny’ Gomez, an ex-cop who has worked as a private investigator since his early retirement from NYPD. Knowing well that Hernandez is an unfortunate victim of illegal quota practice, Gomez is determined to prove Hernandez’s innocence, and we see him going here and there around in Hernandez’s neighborhood for getting the necessary testimonies from several people including a boy who was shot at that time. Although this process surely requires lots of time and effort from him, Gomez is persistent in his pursuit of justice, and we come to root for him as he gets his job done step by step.

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Meanwhile, Gonzales, Raymond, Waller, and nine other police officers join together for filing a civil lawsuit against the city administration, and that instantly draws the attention from the media. While well aware of the risk in exposing themselves in public, they decide to do a TV interview without hiding their names and faces, and we get a brief uplifting moment showing them confidently walking together outside.

Of course, the situation soon becomes a lot more difficult for them as expected. As everyone in NYPD knows who they are, they are more bullied and ostracized than before, and one of them actually considers walking away from the group due to accumulating pressure. In addition, high-ranking officials including NYPD Commissioner William Bratton continue to deny anything about illegal quota practices, and there later comes a daunting moment when their civil lawsuit comes to be stuck in legal limbo.

Overall, “Crime + Punishment” is an important documentary film which deserves to be mentioned along with Ava DuVernay’s Oscar-nominated documentary film “13th”. Like that documentary, “Crime + Punishment” makes a sharp point on a complex social problem in the American society, and it is definitely one of the best documentaries of this year in my inconsequential opinion. Regardless of your opinion on its subject, it is worthwhile to watch for good reasons, and you will not forget those brave people in the documentary after it is over.

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