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Film takes a look at woman's killing by off-duty cop

(Investigation Discovery )
March 15, 2013|By Erin Vogel @eringejuice | RedEye

Less than a month after the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin received national attention last year, 22-year-old Rekia Boyd was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer on Chicago's West Side. Boyd's death last March incited little outcry in Chicago, which saw 52 murders alone the month she was killed.

Unhappy with the lack of media attention surrounding Boyd's case, investigative filmmaker Keith Beauchamp decided to include her case in his documentary "The Injustice Files: Hood of Suspicion" for his Investigation Discovery network show. The film will be screened for the first time in Chicago on Monday at Chicago State University--three days before the one-year anniversary of Boyd's death.

Chicago's City Council approved a $4.5 million wrongful death settlement with Boyd's family on Wednesday, but Beauchamp said the family won't be content until charges are brought against Dante Servin, the officer who killed her. Servin has been on administrative duty since the shooting.

"There's still a fight on our hands," Beauchamp said. "Rekia's life was priceless, so the family sees the settlement as a partial victory--they still want to see the detective off the police force."

Beauchamp previously directed "The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till," a documentary about Emmett Till, the black 14-year-old from Chicago who was brutally murdered in 1955. His film led the United States Department of Justice to reopen Till's case in 2004.

A panel discussion on Chicago's violence featuring Beauchamp, Boyd's brother Martinez Sutton, Dr. Kelly Harris from Chicago State University and Airika Gordon-Taylor, Emmett Till's cousin, will take place after Monday's film screening.

RedEye spoke with Beauchamp about Rekia Boyd and the film, which can also be seen on the Investigation Discovery network at 5 p.m. March 20 CT. 

How did you first come across Boyd's story?

I got an e-mail from someone in the community who was very frustrated with the violence in Chicago that said I should take a look at Rekia Boyd's case. When I went online and saw a clip of Boyd's brother Martinez speaking about Rekia, my heart went out to him. Martinez and Boyd had a very close-knit relationship. She was living with him at the time [of her death], and he was really trying to get Rekia on track with her life.

How did the family react to you wanting to do the film?

They were very happy about it. Behind the scenes there was a lot of frustration because they were trying to get this story out to the masses, and no one was picking up on the story nationally.

Do you think the reason that the death of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton received so much national attention recently was because she was killed by a gang member, or because a year after Boyd's death Chicagoans are becoming even more frustrated with the city's upswing in violence?

I think the national attention on Pendleton's death came from President Barack Obama and the anger from the community knowing she had just performed at the inauguration the week before--and then she ends up a victim. I think that hit the soul of everyone. Everyone was expecting the president to address it because it's his hometown where this violence is taking place, where she unfortunately lost her life--and it continues to happen.

You live in New York right now. How do you and other people you know there see Chicago when you hear, for example, that a 6-month old was shot to death here earlier this week?

For me, my insides cry out, because of my deep connection with Chicago. This city was once the Promised Land for African-Americans--the great migration from the South. Everyone who was African American wanted to move to Chicago to start a new life. And now it's a place people are running away from. All of a sudden, you have these young people dying every day, and nothing is being addressed, and nothing is really being said, and it's like--are these people dying in vain?

Do you think the stricter gun laws Chicago and the state have been moving toward will make a difference in the violence here?

I think that anytime you can get less guns on the street it is going to help, but you and I know it's easy for anyone to get a gun. I don't think that [stricter gun laws] can be the only solution because you're always going to have people buying guns behind the scenes and smuggling guns into the community.

Do you feel like there are two different discussions that need to be had--obviously, a police officer shooting and killing someone is so different from the issue of gang violence and how we fight that. Do you feel like they're the same discussion or they need to be approached differently?

No, it's the same discussion, because you wonder why people in certain communities don't like police and feel like they can't trust the police. Something like what happened to Rekia Boyd really stresses the relationship between police officers and community members even more. Police officers are not supposed to be killing people on the street. The police department should find a way to reach out to the community to try and mend some of that pain that exists and continues to happen. This has been a transgenerational issue. I don't know if the change can happen right now in our time, but it's something that we will continue to fight for, and we hope things will get better.

The film will be screened at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Chicago State University's Breakey Theater with the panel discussion following at 7:15 p.m.

Erin Vogel is a RedEye special contributor.

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