Justifiable Homicide

International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam 2001
Justifiable Homicide
© Gabriel Films Inc., Reality Films, Channel< >4
photos courtesy of IDFA 2001
At a time (i.e. post-WTC crisis) when Rudi Giuliani prepares to part with his post and transfer command to the well-lubricated, Giuliani-supported, ex-mayoral-candidate Michael R. Bloomberg, we are offered a picture of the pains and torments experienced during the reign of "Zero Tolerance" within one family when a boy was shot to death. The two police officers responsible for this double shooting death included an ex-Giuliani volunteer bodyguard who is, at one point during the film, referred to as a cowboy and allegedly known to often carry three backup guns while on duty. The investigation pursued by the parents of Tony Rosario presents even the most pro-Giuliani New Yorker with some pretty difficult facts to reconcile. Remember that even Mrs. Rosario must live with the fact that she once voted for this man.

During 1995, two Puerto Ricans were shot in a Bronx apartment by two policemen who later declared that, as officers, they had handled properly in self-defence when these two boys had forced their way onto the premises supposedly with the intention of robbing the residents. The case was closed in seven days, but the mother of Antonio was left troubled by too many unanswered questions. She couldn't reconcile the story told by the police with the contradictory reports of others regarding the event. On top of this, the police report was at odds with the image she had of her boy: a fairly intelligent young man, who both had the intention of soon starting his own business and was shortly due to become a father. Surely, she thought, he had too much invested in his life to attempt a petty crime such as described in the police report. Other reports suggested that Antonio and his cousin (the second victim) were acquainted with the residents of the apartment and had been visiting, as previously arranged, in order to collect a debt that was long overdue.

Mrs. Rosario's pursuit of the truth behind the incident opened more than one can of worms, especially after she gained the assistance of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), an independent office maintained to keep an eye on the activities of the NYPD. The Board began to discover one odd fact after another until they mounted up sufficiently to create certain doubts with regard to the "official report" of this so-called crime. The CCRB concluded that the police had undoubtedly used unnecessary violence in their handling of the boys during the incident. Shortly afterward, the head of the CCRB investigation team was fired from his position; others on the team were also dismissed. A further embarrassment in this case was yet another report by an independent pathologist who, after making a thorough study of the two cadavers, discovered that all the bullets had apparently been fired into the boys from behind or from the side as the boys lay prostate on the apartment floor.

The attitude of the powerful exerting their influence over the middle-classes (and, naturally, inferring similar activities against the underclasses) is more than amply exemplified by Giuliani himself during his talk-radio presentation (broadcast from the World Trade Center) when unexpectedly receiving a phone call from Mrs. Rosario. Director Jon Osman and producer Jonathan Stack had cameras cleverly positioned for this moment, both on location by Giuliani as well as Rosario, thereby facilitating a revealing split-screen image of the actual event; the total effect is not lost on anyone. Giuliani doesn't allow Mrs. Rosario to get a word in edgewise and attempts, rather unsuccessfully, to make himself look as sympathetic as possible while simultaneously trying to tear her arguments apart. This approach, he quickly realizes, doesn't work. Something, it would seem, citizens, isn't only rotten in the state of Denmark. A vast number of Afro-, Asian-, and Hispanic Americans who have found their premature end during the past few years becomes painfully apparent to all those with even a limited acquaintance of New York affairs when, at one point, a variety of newspaper headlines flash across the screen.

Helpless to do anything about her son's death, Mrs. Rosario has maintained her active involvement in combating similar injustices by setting up Parents Against Police Brutality with the hope that other parents may possibly be spared a similar predicament.

The unexpected events of 911 in New York City, which have resulted in large scale re-editing as well as rescheduling of premiere dates for several super-Hollywood-action flicks (examples include Arnold's firefighter appearance as Gorden Brewer in "Collateral Damage" and the unfortunate, untimely thrust of Peter Parker's web in "Spider-Man") have had, one can easily understand, an even more devastating impact upon this documentary. Producer Jonathan Stack originally believed that this latest offering from his production company, Gabriel Films, would be seeing the light around mid-September, but the trumpet blowing heralded another destiny.

IDFA 2001
The world needs its heroes and Rudi Giuliani has become one of them since September 11th (NB - even to the extent of being knighted for his efforts by the Queen of England). Stack, realizing that he was about to release a film aimed at Giuliani and the New York City police which renders a strong, clear, and effective argument about the system, knew that no one would be able to accept such a film at the present moment, and therefore decided to pull it.

Unable to be released in America, the film will nevertheless be enjoying its world premiere in Amsterdam during the IDFA. To make matters surrounding "Justifiable Homicide" even more sensitive stateside, the film's director, Jon Osman, who worked exhaustively for a year and a half reconstructing the entire series of events connected with the affair, originally hails from Afghanistan. One wonders what the reaction (of New Yorkers in particular) will be when and if the film ever receives an American release. (Let's hope that the Mr. Stack is thoughtful enough to invite Mr. Bloomberg to attend the eventual N.Y. premiere.)

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