Gary Duncan tried to end a fight in 1966. But he was the one who was arrested.
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Gary Duncan was 19 and living in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, in 1966 when he tried to break up an argument between white and black teenagers outside a newly integrated school. Mr. Duncan, who is black, put his hand on the arm of a white boy, and that simple gesture resulted in the police breaking into his home and arresting him for assaulting a minor.
What followed was a complicated legal fight that made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Now, a new documentary, “A Crime on the Bayou”, explores both the case and the lasting bond that has formed between Mr. Duncan and his lawyer, Richard Sobol. Inspired by the book “Deep Delta Justice” by Matthew Van Meter, A crime on the bayou is the third film in a Nancy Buirski trilogy that portrays people who fought for justice in and around the civil rights era.
I recently met with one of the film’s executive producers, Mike Jackson, about the documentary’s relevance today, a time marked by the murder of George Floyd and nationwide protests against systemic racism. Our conversation has been slightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Why was it important to develop this documentary and draw attention to this particular incident in the civil rights movement?
Everything is still happening. Racism is alive and well. I think in order to highlight the stories and atrocities that have happened to people of color, for decades, it’s really important for us to support those stories and use our platforms. If we don’t, it will never end.
Racism is so alive and strong these days that I think it’s important to trace it back to the original stories.
Were there any moments during the creation of the film, or moments in the film that stood out for you?
For me personally, I think the highlight of the film is the overall message about how easily a person of color could be accused of something and their life turned upside down. Connect the dots between how racism has been dealt with in this country and how hard it is to navigate America as a black man, and how easy it is for someone to say, “They l ‘did”.
The system generally works in favor of the accuser, who is often not the person of color. Being Black at all times means that you could be seen as guilty whether or not you did something.
Can you talk a little more about the specific parallels you see in this film and the parallels to racial injustices today?
It’s ironic that you asked me this question because I recently saw a headline and read an article about two young black men. One was about to be in his first year in college on a track and field scholarship and the other was his younger brother, and they had just gone on a family vacation and the father allowed his children to go out and meet a friend. Apparently they matched a description of two black men who were in an altercation earlier today. They were arrested and held without charge for 30 days.
During those 30 days, the oldest son lost his college scholarship and no charges were ever laid. And it got me thinking about ourselves, again, its desirability and relevance, because being literally black in this country you are guilty until your innocence is proven. It just shows the inequalities in this country. All we are asking for is equality. And I think our film explores that in an extraordinary way.
Who do you hope the film reaches?
People who for some reason refuse to see what racism is doing to this country. Maybe they can relate the dots in this movie to the death of George Floyd and all the other atrocities that have happened in this country for so many decades and finally realize that it’s real, that it’s happening. product. I have no expectation of that to happen because the last couple of years in particular – the things that people have said and the things that we have seen regarding race relations in this country – have been truly disheartening. But then again, maybe this movie can somehow inspire people to right the wrongs in this country. So I hope, at the very least, that this film could be a power for more action and more justice.
What can people learn from Gary Duncan and his story?
I think the takeaway is faith.
Gary Duncan was trying to do the right thing and stop the violence by ending this situation, and it backfired. But through this process he stood up straight and found faith and allied himself with someone who was unlike him. And I hope the message is, like the Underground Railroad, it takes a village. It takes all kinds of people to overcome adversity. And I think it’s really important that there is faith in any fight that you’re about to have, that you have faith that you can come over to the other side with your head held high.