ArchCity Defenders uses the cash bail system, the death of Michael Brown Jr. and the movements that grew out of the Ferguson unrest to shine light on racial injustice and inequalities with their second annual racial justice film series.
The law firm will first showcase “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin” on Thursday night at the Kranzberg Arts Center. The film, by Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer, outlines the life of gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who served in the background as an organizer of the civil rights movement.
Z Gorley, communications director for ArchCity Defenders, said the firm chose the film to mark the end of Pride Month. They said ArchCity decided to screen the film about the lesser-known activist because “a lot of times he is attributed to having this behind-the-scenes role because of his sexuality.”
“He was a black gay man, and the intersectionality of racial justice, civil rights, gay rights and human rights was a lot to hold at that time,” Gorley said.
Gorley wants to connect what happened to Rustin in the 1960s to what is happening now in the St. Louis region in regard to LGBTQIA civil rights and racial justice issues.
The Jay-Z-produced film digs deeply into the life of a 16-year-old black boy from New York who spent three years in the Rikers Island prison for allegedly stealing a backpack. Browder was granted bail for $900, which he could not afford. In 2015, two years after being released from prison, Browder commited suicide.
Gorley said a window into Browder’s life could be compelling to audiences here, because in St. Louis, cash bail, pretrial detention and the St. Louis correctional facility — the Workhouse — are directly correlated to racial injustice.
“At this current time, there are literally hundreds of people who are innocent and haven't been convicted of a crime yet and are detained pretrial in the Workhouse, and that reality is all too familiar to Kalief Browder and his family.”
The firm is taking on issues similar to Browder’s and others for people of color and poor residents of St. Louis. On Jan. 28, ArchCity Defenders, Civil Rights Corps, Advancement Project National Office and Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection filed a cash bail class-action lawsuit against the city of St. Louis to insist that inmates get fair bail hearings. On June 11, the presiding judge stated it was unconstitutional to hold inmates without a fair bail hearing.
Gillooly’s film highlights the connection between Kinloch, Missouri’s first all-black city, and the once all-white neighboring city of Ferguson. And Woodson’s four-minute documentary relates how St. Louis politics, segregation and corporate entities played a role in the disappearance of Kinloch.
Woodson hopes her film resonates with black residents across St. Louis and the country who are currently living in all-black communities like Kinloch and want to repair their intentionally dismantled black neighborhood.
After each film showing, there will be a Q&A session with city leaders, filmmakers and activists.
Doors open for the series’ first film, “Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin,” Thursday at 6:30 p.m., and the film starts at 7 p.m.
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Andrea Y. Henderson is part of the public-radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Andrea at @drebjournalist.