“I don't think that to talk about ugliness you necessarily have to be ugly,” says director Samantha Casolari, who, moved by the civil protests against police brutality following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner last year, has created an emphatic portrayal of victims of police violence. “[My aim was to] empower the people who are subject to this unfortunately institutionalized system, showing their beauty and their strength.”
For Eleven Times – which refers to the number of times Garner said "I can't breathe" as police grabbed and choked him – the New York-based photographer and filmmaker worked with wunderkind musician Nicolas Jaar and legendary producer Brian Jackson – long-time collaborator of the late Gil Scott-Heron – to create new music inspired by Jackson and Scott-Heron’s classic anthem “Winter in America.” With the help of Cory Rowe, who holds a PhD in criminal justice, Casolari found 11 protagonists – profiled below – whose testimonies bring the experience of police brutality to the fore.
“The message is far greater than the fact of several black men being victims of racist cops,” says Jackson. “In our hearts we all can see the pain that black men and women endure in America as in so many other places in the world. But what is the answer? The answer is in their eyes.”
Peter Foreman, 58
Currently in prison
“In 1975, outside the Grand Concourse train station, a police officer stopped me and said I was a suspect in a robbery. He pulled me into the police car, pointed a gun at my head, kicked me in my torso, then released me.”
Khalid Mils, 27
“I’ve been stopped and searched by the police just walking to the store. Being a tall black man in the ghetto, you’re already a suspect to the police.
Musician; security guard
“After two guys tried to rob me, I was bruised, and my shirt was torn. When my girlfriend saw me, we began to argue in the street. The cops pulled up, she tried to explain but they hit her face, told her to shut up, and when I tried to stop them, I was beat up and thrown in jail for four days.”
Brandon Joseph, 18
“I was just shaking my friend’s hand when two cops ran up to me and started reaching into my pockets. I asked what I did wrong and got no answer, and when they didn’t find anything, they just walked off like nothing happened.”
Romain Artis, 18
“I don’t have a criminal background, but one time a teacher gave me a student MetroCard [for the subway], and I got a ticket because the police didn’t believe it was mine and I had no proof I was a student.
Allan Brown, 38
“I went to get a coffee when a police car pulled up and a white officer rolled down his window and asked what I was doing there. I said I lived across the street but the officers followed me to my building, jumped out with their hands on their guns, stopped and searched me for no reason, then let me go.”
“Being a black male in America, let alone New York City, means random searches and being pulled over for no real reason. I’ve been taken to the precinct for mistaken identity before. Times have changed, but some things do not change.”
Jason Don Conley, 47
School teacher; home mentor for autistic children
“I was bike riding from a community garden when four plainclothes cops asked where I was coming from and said the branch of lemon verbena sticking out of my knapsack looked suspicious. I was told to get off my bike and I was searched then they let me go and commented that I looked upset.”
“I’ve been pulled over numerous times, but I am fortunate enough to have a card indicating I have family on the force, which has never failed to alter the officer’s tone. Pretty much every person of color I know has a ‘If/when I get pulled over’ routine where a series of measures are taken to come across as non-threatening as possible: engine off, hands visible, music off, announce all movements… some even go as far as to drop their car keys out of the driver side window and stick their hands outside.”