Talking Race and Justice at the Premiere of ‘Who Killed Garrett Phillips?’
BY ALLIE WAXMAN
Following the film’s premiere, director Liz Garbus and six of the subjects discussed the case and its aftermath with New York Times writer Jesse McKinley.
The premiere of the two-part documentary Who Killed Garrett Phillips? elicited gasps and applause from its audience, members of which were on the edge of their seats for the entirety of the three-hour presentation. The film, which focuses on the criminal trial of a black man in a small Upstate New York town, raises important issues about race and the criminal justice system. Following the film, director Liz Garbus was joined on stage by New York Times writer Jesse McKinley, film subject Oral “Nick” Hillary, and the team of lawyers who helped secure his acquittal. Here are the takeaways from their gripping conversation.
Nick Hillary is moving on with his life.
Although Hillary was acquitted, he knows it will take time before he regains a sense of normalcy. “I’m trying to be involved in soccer as much as I can, just not at the collegiate level, and working with my kids now as they continue to grow. I’m working with teams in the community, trying to make the best of each day moving forward.” He embraces the time he spends with his children, noting: “For what I’ve gone through, every day is that much more special.”
Garbus let the subjects speak for themselves.
Garbus, who embedded within the community for the production of the film, noted how important it was to have the subjects speak for themselves. “[Potsdam Police Lieutenant] Mark Murray shared his perspective, [District Attorney] Mary Rain shared hers, and we presented them fairly. We presented what they had of evidence in this case. We showed Nick’s deposition. It was about presenting it and allowing it to unfold for viewers the way it was unfolding for Nick and for the team.”
The criminal justice system is broken...and not just in the South.
“This case was about race from the very beginning,” asserted defense attorney Norman Siegel. “This country, this city, has never really dealt with our racial problems. If we don’t acknowledge it, we can never confront it and can never overcome it.” Attorney and friend of Hillary, Mani Tafari, concurred: “You’re looking at somebody who took up arms for this country. Somebody who fought for freedom for the rest of us. That the system was willing to lock him up and take away his freedom, simply because he’s a black man that made a left turn in a white town, blew my mind.”