While not an easy film to experience, “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain” is a very important film. It tells a story that one would think could not happen, but it did. The film captures all of the stories and puts them together bringing the viewer squarely in the middle of a situation that is clearly out of control.
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain tells the true story of the final hours of the life of Kenneth chamberlain Sr., an elderly African American veteran with bipolar disorder, who was killed during a conflict with police officers who were sent to his home to check on him.
At 5:22 AM on November 19, 2011, Chamberlain’s medical alert device was mistakenly activated and the police arrived soon after. Kenneth insisted that he was alright and there was not an emergency. Police were recorded taunting Kenneth, belittling his military service and spewing racial slurs at him. When Kenneth refused to open his door the officers broke down the door and ultimately shot him to death.
This movie speaks powerfully tour current national conversation about police brutality, institutional racism, and the treatment of our most vulnerable citizens.
In terms of story-telling this is a masterpiece. Frankie Faison is Kenneth Chamberlain Sr., leading a skilled cast whose charcter portrayals were nuanced and convincing. The filming is excellent. Sounds were important, Kenneth’s breathing, the incessant pounding of the door, the conversations on electronic devices in the room, the heart monitor that connected to the company operator, the cell phone.
In terms of an experience, my head is still reeling. How is it that a situation that demands compassion and care result in violence and death? Kenneth had been a Marine who served his country honorably. He knew the law. He had done nothing wrong. The police had no warrant. On what grounds was he slaughtered? To give the police satisfaction because Kenneth would not obey their orders? Because he was Black? Ill? Old? Poor? Confused? Defending himself? Because he believed his one room hovel was his castle, not to be invaded?
Things have changed since 2011. The police were not held accountable in any way then. Would there be a different outcome now? Why was the family not allowed to speak to him? Why were the police the first line of contact when he had a daughter, a son, sister, and a niece who loved him and wanted to help him? Their voices were recorded and we hear them in the film. And we hear the police who were clearly off base.
Three officers came to the scene initially. One was experienced, disillusioned and burned out. Another seemed to be trouble, he needed watching and an incident in which he previously caused a problem was referred to. And then there was the rookie who was in a terrible place, having to obey orders that he knew were wrong. He had previously taught 5th grade and he cared and probably joined the police force to help people, not this.
While this story is still shocking even in the face of so many incidents that have followed, will this film make a difference? Might it influence the current call for intervention from therapist, counselors and the medical community, perhaps along with the police? As a film this gets high marks. As a story, it is truly awful.
Photo Credit: Camrin Petramale