“Every Mother’s Son,” a documentary by Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson based on three instances of police brutality against unarmed young men in New York City, premieres on PBS’ “POV” Tuesday, Aug. 17, at 10 p.m. eastern time.
Anthony Baez, a 29-year-old Puerto Rican living in the Bronx in 1994, was playing street football with family and friends when the ball bounced off a police car. This enraged one of the officers, Francis Livoti. The officer put Baez in a chokehold that caused his death. Anthony’s mother is Iris Baez.
In February 1999, four police officers shot 41 bullets into Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old African, while he was standing in his doorway in the Bronx. The officers said they had been looking for a rapist in the area. Diallo had been reaching for his wallet when he was shot. Police said they thought the wallet was a gun. Diallo’s mother is Kadiatou Diallo.
Gary “Gideon” Busch was a 31-year-old Hasidic Jew in August 1999. He was also mentally ill. Eight policemen answered a noise complaint in the middle of the afternoon. The police said he was menacing them with a hammer. His mother said it was a small religious object that was hammer shaped. Police shot and killed him. His mother is Doris Busch Boskey.
Police brutality has been a feature of law enforcement since its organized inception. Brutality victims have almost always been the poor, the immigrant poor and African Americans, no matter what their status.
“Every Mother’s Son” suggests that any young man of any race or national origin can be a victim of police brutality. Benjamin Davis, former chair of the Communist Party in Harlem, while on trial in 1948 under the Smith Act, which sought to make being a member of the Communist Party illegal, said that one of the aims of the Communist Party was “eliminating police brutality against the Negro people.”
During the trial Davis was ending his second term as the second African American to sit on the New York City Council and the second to hold any elected public office. He stated during his trial: “I considered that the long existence of force and violence against the Negro people in this country has been the very springboard for force and violence against other minority groups in America.”
Death at the hands of the police is not a natural worry for most mothers. Most victims are Black or poor. The exception of Busch actually makes the point. In the eyes of his neighbors and the police, Busch had become an outsider.
The women in “Every Mother’s Son” never expected to become activists — Iris Baez says about her small life of home, children, neighborhood and political unawareness, “I lived in a pink world” — but now they are doing everything they can to make sure no other mother goes through what they have.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.