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Courtney B. Vance Talks '61st Street' and America's Need for Change

One fear for a Black man living in America is going to jail for a crime he didn’t commit. There have been plenty of stories of "mistaken identity" and planted evidence, where Black men have been imprisoned for years and many times this wrong is never corrected.

Co-executive produced by Michael B. Jordan, filmed in Chicago, 61st Street tells the story of how a promising high school student-athlete is wrongfully caught up in the city's terrible criminal justice system. In the series, a drug dealer is killed by the police and while pursuing a suspect an officer dies, which creates this firestorm in the city. Moses Johnson, played by Tosin Cole, is the student-athlete who was college-bound but now finds himself with an arrest warrant and being searched by the police. Courtney B. Vance plays Franklin Roberts, a Chicago public defender who was about to retire when he is compelled to help Moses out of his predicament.

Over the last couple of years, we have seen quite a few TV series and movies that focus on the excessive force police officers use on Black people. Vance shares that 61st Street's perspective on police brutality and systemic injustice needs to be told "because it's there. In a real sense, we refuse to acknowledge that it's there." America refuses to see that it has a problem with not only its law enforcement practices but ultimately the automatic mislabeling of Black people as a threat.

Black life is completely undervalued in this country and if the tables were turned, there would be a different outcome. "When a white girl is kidnapped, we have an amber alert. But when there's young African American children, it takes 150 of them in Atlanta to become a problem," Vance shares. Our lives are valuable. All lives are valuable. But when will America stop automatically associating darker skin with people you should fear? Women clinch their purses when Black men are around, they walk across the street and we are still followed in stores. These are daily scenarios our white counterparts never have to experience.

Black men are the biggest victims of guilty by association. During the first episode, we witness Moses gets lumped into the crowd of drug dealers. Black men are never given a chance to explain themselves and if they are, they are not believed.

61st Street takes us through the lengths that one public defender must go to defend a Black man in America who is accused of a crime he didn't commit. Season one of the eight-episode series, which will be available on AMC, dives deep into the workings of Chicago, its politics and the court system. In this series, we will also see an example of a family man [Vance] who is not only battling a serious health issue but also doing his part to protect a Black life.

Check out our interview with Courtney B. Vance below.

61st Street premieres on April 10 on AMC at 10 PM ET.


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