Morehouse Screening of ‘Crown Heights’ Brings Awareness to National Problem Unequal justice for poor and minority defendants emphasized in new film

Date Released: August 25, 2017


Colin Warner spent 21 years in prison for a murder that he didn’t commit. And he came to Morehouse College recently for a film debut that warned Atlanta University Center students that his story could easily be theirs.

Warner’s heartbreaking journey to freedom was depicted in the new film “Crown Heights,” which is being shown in select movie theaters across the country. More than 600 people gathered at the Martin Luther King Jr. Chapel to see the flick in a special screening of the movie.

“Crown Heights” is a multi-layered story about Warner’s wrongful conviction, a troubled criminal justice system, and one man’s dogged pursuit of justice for his friend.

Interestingly, the screening came on a day when a black male in Missouri got a stay of execution just hours before being put to death for a murder that DNA evidence now strongly indicates he did not commit. Missouri’s governor issued a stay on Aug. 22, and a new board will study the DNA evidence.

“It took me through hell,” Warner said to students about his own story. “For 21 years, I had been crying in prison for somebody to just listen. One man listened. One man. So, nothing is impossible.”

The screening was sponsored by UNCF (United Negro College Fund), Urban Specialists, and Morehouse College. And it came just days after the initial release of the film.

Adapted from a “This American Life” podcast, the film tells Warner’s story, which began in the Crown Heights section of New York where the Trinidadian native lived as a teen. It stars Keith Stanfield as Warner and former NFL star Nnamdi Asomugha as his best friend and savior, Carl King.

While detailing the duo’s pursuit of justice, it also serves as a harsh commentary on the nation’s issues of race, a faulty and many times unfair indigent defense system, and the politics of crime. The film showed how poor people of color received substandard to no legal representation, when good attorneys could have helped their cases. Or, as in Warner’s case, kept them in prison when they never should have been there.

Morehouse political science professor Adrienne Jones moderated a discussion with Warner, Morehouse Moot Court coach Winfield Murray ’98, the Rev. Omar Jahwar of Urban Specialists, and Ilham Askia, executive director of Gideon’s Promise, a nonprofit organization that makes sure marginalized defendants get the legal representation they deserve.

“People do not want to talk about that—the criminal justice system that is racist,” said Askia. “It is a racial and class issue. There are poor people and people of color who are being incarcerated by the thousands every single day. And what happens and why it’s happening is because there is a narrative that poor people and poor people of color simply do not matter. They are not deserving of quality lawyers, they are not deserving of good justice, and it needs to be fixed.”

Murray, a former prosecutor in Atlanta, said much of the problem with unequal justice can be solved with more minorities working in the legal system and serving on juries who have cultural competency.

“When I’m teaching at Morehouse, not only am I trying to prepare people for law school and help make them the best attorneys they can be possibly be someday, I’m also hoping we can have attorneys who can go into the public defender sector, the prosecution sector, and become judges, because until there’s more diversity, we will continue to have more incarceration rates such as the ones I’ve described,” he said.

Antoinette Warner, who married Colin Warner while he was in prison, also attended the screening.

She told students that Morehouse was a good place for them since Morehouse “is just not about a higher education. It’s about a higher consciousness.”

“We want to show you guys that this can happen to you just like it happened to Mr. Warner,” she said.   “We care where this movie goes and who sees it, and we want to bring it to the community.”

Mrs. Warner also urged students to make a difference: “Go out there and know that whatever line of study you choose, whatever your degree is in, make it conscious, make it known that you are going to help the community.”

Last Modified: August 25, 2017, 11:08 AM, by: Synera Shelton

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