ACT Human Rights Film Festival: ‘Crime + Punishment’ sheds light on the NYPD’s racially-charged, illegal actions

Claire Oliver

Prejudice runs deep into the roots of American history. And today it is present in the very institutions that are supposed to be keeping our citizen’s safe including our police departments. 

Two people stand on a stage
Pedro Hernandez and his mom, Jessica Perez, discuss systemic issues with the New York Police Department in a Q&A at the third annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival. Just moments before, the audience watched “Crime + Punishment,” a documentary by Stephen Maing that follows Hernandez’s unlawful detainment at Riker’s Island for attempted murder. He was held in the jail for 8 months on a $250,000 bail for a crime that was later dismissed without trial. (Randi Mattox | Collegian)

“Crime + Punishment,” a film by Stephen Maing, was shown at Colorado State University’s ACT Human Rights Film Festival. The film focused on racial injustices in the New York Police Department. It centered around the “NYPD 12” a group of 12 New York cops who were singled out in their precincts for not meeting quotas and summons.  

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Quotas represent a certain number of arrests in a prescient that have to be reached by a certain time and are officially illegal in New York.  Or so it would seem.

According to Maing’s film, $900 million of the cities revenue is made from summons. And in order to keep the cash flow going, the commissioners in each precinct tell cops to stake out certain minority neighborhoods to bring in more arrests. 

In order to meet this unrealistic expectation, minority groups were targeted and many were wrongly imprisoned including Pedro Hernandez, a teenager from New York. He was accused of open firing on a group of arguing teenagers when in reality Hernandez was nowhere near the incident. Hernandez’s case was also part of the film.  

Hernandez and his mother, Jessica Perez, hired a private investigator, Manny Gomez, to dig deeper into the crime and to no one’s surprise he found evidence maintaining Hernandez’s innocence. And not only that but he found video proving Hernandez was not the one who fired into the crowd. 

We just got to start from the bottom.  If we just swipe clean everything I think we can build the justice system better.” Jesscia Perez, mother of Pedro Hernandez

After eight months of detainment at Rikers Island, Hernandez posted bail with the help of a charity called RFK Human Rights Organization who helped raise $100,000. The bail was originally set at $250,000, an amount that Perez would never be able to pay out of pocket.  

Hernandez maintained his innocence up until trial when the case was dismissed by the city after Gomez discovered the identity of the real shooter as well as the video evidence of Hernandez’s innocence. The city had originally promised a long trial process so an easy dismissal was even further proof of corruption within the justice system in New York.  

Four people stand on a stage
The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado’s Becca Curry facilitates a Q&A with Pedro Hernandez and his mom, Jessica Perez, to discuss systemic issues with the New York Police Department at the third annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival. Hernandez’s little sister joins them on stage. Just moments before, the audience watched “Crime + Punishment,” a documentary by Stephen Maing that follows Hernandez’s unlawful detainment at Riker’s Island for attempted murder. He was held in the jail for 8 months on a $250,000 bail for a crime that was later dismissed without trial. (Randi Mattox | Collegian)

For the “NYPD 12,” they are still fighting to prove the use of illegal quotas within NYPD precincts. Their case was dismissed by the city even before evidence was put forth, and the case now sits in limbo. 

After the film, there was a Q&A with both Perez and Hernandez. Perez spoke about her fight for better treatment of minorities in New York City and how she moved the family out from the place they were living in to avoid interaction with the police officers in the area.

Hernandez spoke about his time behind bars and how he maintained his innocence despite being offered a lesser sentence if he pled guilty. The one aspect that made Hernandez stand out was his ability to keep a cool head and a strong demeanor throughout the entire process. 

“The temptation, it’s like being offered something that you’ve always wanted,” Hernandez said during the Q&A session after the showing. “Say you’re 50-years-old and you always wanted something since you were 15. And every day you go out and try to get it but you still haven’t gotten it and now you are 50. Until finally someone comes up and offers it to you but you are about to go through a path that you don’t want to in order to get it.” 

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Hernandez held strong and is now looking for reforms within the justice system for minority groups who are targeted for no other reason than being a minority. 

“These are all programs that (the police) are all in charge of themselves,” Hernandez said after the film. “They can beat you up or something like that and maybe you sue. But in court, they can do whatever they want. They can do legal things or illegal things. You can go to court you can win your case or not. But them being arrested or them being punished is not possible as of right now.” 

Perez agreed with her son, calling out the police and the District Attorney for their inhumanity. 

“They don’t act human; they don’t see them as a father, a son, a cousin,” Perez said. “And they don’t believe in putting themselves in people’s shoes. So what we see is all these officers (the NYPD 12) trying to change the problem that we have in the justice system. I think that is the beginning…We’ve just got to start from the bottom. If we just swipe clean everything I think we can build the justice system better.”

Collegian reporter Claire Oliver can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @claire_oliver21.