In the tradition of Whose Streets? and I Am Not Your Negro, Stephen Maing’s Crime + Punishment is a similar film that mirrors the struggle of minority groups in the United States. But unlike the aforementioned films, which focus on the everyday civilian, Maing’s magnum opus centers on the corruption within the New York Police Department. The film also depicts the targeting of minorities both within that system and outside.
The main subjects of the film is the NYPD 12, a group of police officers who exposed the crookedness within the structure of the country’s largest police force. This corruption lies within the quota for arrests and summons that the higher-ups require of their officers. The quota was banned in 2010, but during the film’s timeline (beginning in 2014) the quota still existed informally as recent as last year. In fact, the catalyst for this film was one of the NYPD 12 members reaching out to Maing, before the NYPD 12 existed, to complain about the pressure he was under. Maing asked if he could come to New York and film it.
With the quota still in place, police officers feel pressured to reach the number of arrests and summons necessary to stay on the force. Because of this, officers wrongfully arrest people even if they have not committed a crime. On the other side of that coin, viewers meet a family whose 17-year-old son has been wrongfully arrested for attempted murder. The boy has six prior arrests, all dismissed for lack of evidence, and has an otherwise clean record. His mother insists that as minorities, she and her family are targets of the unofficial arrest and summons goals.
At one point in the film, there is a meeting between officers who have complaints about pressure from these unofficial quotas –– one of them said his supervisor outright told him they are looking for more arrests, and summons for young black and Hispanic males between the ages of 14 and 21. Other officers wear hidden recorders and cameras to capture evidence that there are quotas in place that aren’t being met. With testimonies from several NYPD officers and some recorded evidence, we see that the NYPD is deliberately targeting young males and, more undeniably, minorities.
The beautiful thing about Maing’s storytelling is how he was able to give equal screen time to each of the main subjects in the movie. Each of the individuals depicted on screen were given enough spotlight to raise their voices and tell their own sides of the story. He kept the film interesting by providing different viewpoints: not just from the NYPD 12, but also from some of the allies of the movement. It gave the film a very deep dimension, showing that this problem affected the whole community and was not just an issue of cops trying to keep their jobs or an issue of another minority who’d been arrested six times getting picked up again.
He tells the story from an honest point of view, making us see that these are real people with real, everyday problems just like us. We see that just because this 17-year-old boy has been arrested six times does not make him a bad kid, and we also see that not all police officers are going to follow the line their officers say is the one they have to walk, right or wrong.
The film gives us another angle of racism and discrimination and a fresh perspective on how institutional racism works in a very diverse unit such as the NYPD. Maing has done a great job of pushing the conversation about these issues further. I highly recommend that everyone sees Crime + Punishment as it peels off another layer of the ugliness of modern society.
Crime + Punishment will be available on Hulu Friday, August 24th.