Tuesday, November 17, 2020

DOC NYC Spotlight: Blue Code of Silence

I’m excited to be covering DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eleventh year, this time in a mostly online format, from November 11th-19th.

Blue Code of Silence
Directed by Magnus Skatvold and Greg Mallozzi
Ticket Information

Throughout the recent prominence of the phrase “Black Lives Matter,” there has been considerable pushback from staunch supporters of the police about the importance of “blue lives.” While that term has been debated since there are in fact no blue people, the notion of backing those who “protect and serve” and constantly put their lives in danger is not something that is more complicated to question. That does not mean, of course, that those with power should abuse it, and that a system of checks and balances should not exist to ensure that corruption is not allowed to fester.

In the 1970s, NYPD Detective Bob Leuci became a notorious figure in the police force due to his active participation in recording members of the Special Investigative Unit and helping to build a case against his fellow officers. This documentary tracks Leuci’s career and the way in which he became involved in illegal activities, ultimately prompting him to turn against his colleagues and earn widespread condemnation for his portrayal. Former police officers and detectives offer their opinions, as does the late Leuci, who died at age seventy-five in 2015.

This is absolutely a relevant subject today as law enforcement stands on trial with the public for its treatment of people of color and the frequent use of excessive force. Leuci was one of the first to cooperate and actively work against members of his team, something that was seen as detestable and unforgivable. Such career-ruining bravery may be applauded in our current moment, but there is also no clear consensus on Leuci’s motivations and whether he was merely trying to save himself or if he actually believed in doing good.

This film doesn’t take a firm position on Leuci’s innocence or guilt, and instead presents a variety of perspectives that speak to specific moments from Leuci’s life and the way others interpreted his behavior. He is not described as a flawless man, and even he, and his Kathy, admit the ways in which his actions were far from perfect. This film’s archive footage showing figures like Rudy Giuliani that chronicle the way in which the NYPD was shaped decades ago is remarkably interesting, and even if it’s far from conclusive, it’s enlightening for how things have evolved today and might well contribute to arguments for or against the dismantling or at least a formidable reconstruction of policing in the United States in its current form.


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