Based on a true story, “Crown Heights” is tough to watch
because this is about injustice. It's
done to one man, Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield), but what's so
depressing is that we all realize this isn't the first time, nor will it
be the only time.
Colin Warner is a teenage petty thief in the Crown Heights section
of Brooklyn. Steal a car, sell
it at the local “chop shop.” So
it's not like he's a freshman on academic scholarship at NYU.
He is 18 years old, an immigrant (from Trinidad), he hasn't
finished high school, he's already a small-time crook, and he doesn't have
much in the way of family to look out for him, which is why he was such an
easy target for a set-up.
It seems there was a murder in his neighborhood, and the cops were
so anxious to get a conviction that they badgered a 15-year-old, in
trouble for an armed robbery, to point to Colin Warner as the driver of
the getaway car in a drive-by shooting.
Turns out it wasn't a drive-by at all; the assailant was on foot.
Turns out the 15-year-old kid didn't even know Colin Warner, he
just wanted a plea deal for himself, and would say anything the cops told
him to say. Colin Warner is
tried, together with the “real” killer, who won't admit anything in
hopes that they'll let him go. He
doesn't care what happens to Colin Warner.
And apparently neither does anybody else.
He gets 15 years to life.
Now that he's wrongly convicted, Colin Warner is his own worst
enemy. He resents being in
prison, because he feel he doesn't belong there.
He rankles at any perceived slight, either from a guard or a fellow
inmate. His quick-tempered
scrapes get him put in solitary confinement as punishment.
Meanwhile, Colin's only real friend, Carl “KC” King (former NFL
All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha), tries to raise money for Colin's bail (not
happening), and then Colin's appeal (denied).
In one of KC's many neighborhood fund-raising solicitations for his
friend's defense fund, he runs into Antoinette (Natalie Paul), who
remembers Colin fondly, and now that she's back from her military service,
decides to go with KC to visit Colin.
The sparks fly, and now Colin has even more incentive to get out,
because Antoinette's affection for Colin blossoms into a jailhouse
romance, complete a hasty civil ceremony, and with occasional awkward
Finally, KC gets another appeal arranged, but runs into some
unexpected attorney incompetence, so Colin remains in jail until his first
parole hearing, after 15 years. He
is denied, because he refuses to admit remorse for his crime, because he's
still maintaining that he didn't commit it in the first place.
Finally, in his second job as a process server, KC finds an
attorney who will pay some attention to the case, and after some detective
work of his own, KC finally finds a witness who will testify that Colin
had nothing to do with the crime. KC
also wises up and gets the media involved, which embarrasses the DA's
office enough to finally move with the defense to drop the charges.
At last, after 21 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit,
Colin Warner is a free man.
It's not as if anyone ever apologizes to Colin Warner.
They certainly can't hand him back the prime years of his life.
But by this time, we, the viewers, are glad to see a grievous wrong
righted, even if tragically postponed, even if in a frustratingly flawed
system. We can only hope that
outside the bars, Colin Warner's exhiliration will exceed his resentment.