“Two Sides,” a four-part limited TV One docuseries, provides an inside look into the extraordinary events from 2014 – 2015, where four prominent police shootings reverberated throughout the nation. The public eye quickly turned to invest in the lives of the series subjects, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John Crawford and Sandra Bland.
The show, executive produced by Viola Davis, her husband Julius Tennon, along with Jemuel Plummer, takes a deep dive into what lead to each victim’s untimely death and how the loss affected the lives of everyone they touched, including family and friends. The series also features commentary from lead law enforcement and includes interviews with Al Sharpton, Christopher Darden and Maxine Waters.
Tennon and Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr, sat down with us at HelloBeautiful to discuss what they hope viewers will impart from the series, the fight for equality, and how the impact of losing a child motivated Carr to become a Mother of the Movement.
HelloBeautiful: Could you talk to us about how you came to involved with the project?
Julius Tennon: This whole thing came together because Lemuel Plummer Media (LPM) they had this idea and they brought it to us. We wanted to do something socially that would create what we would call “water cooler moments,” where people would have conversations around issues that meant something.
We didn’t want to do this and it was just one-sided because we knew that we needed to try and make it as balanced as possible. These are horrific things and we know lives are lost because of this, but we wanted to do something that could uplift, that could really create conversations and so that’s how we started bouncing around “Two Sides.”
HB: You’ve had a difficult few weeks with the passing of your granddaughter Erica and just the overarching loss your son, Eric. What keeps you grounded and steadfast in continuing to amplify the fight for Black liberation?
Gwen Carr: Well before my son passed, I used to see these things happening. I really am guilty of not doing anything about it at that time, you know I had sympathy, but now since my son’s death, I find out that sympathy is not enough. You have to empathize. You have to put yourself in that place. You have to feel what the other mother’s feel when something like this happens, and this is what happened with me. And after I got up out of my dark place–because for a while I was in a very dark place, didn’t want to get up, didn’t want to do anything. But you know, being a very religious person, I had to listen and the Lord said to me, “Are you going to stay there and die like your son, or are you going to get up and are you going to life up his name?” So, at that point after I got myself together I said, “You know what, I’m turning my mourning into a movement and my sorrow into a strategy.” So now my bitterness becomes a battle for justice.
Myself and other New York mother’s, we have galvanized, we have gone to other lawmakers doors to try to get changes and we did get a few changes made. We did get the executive order for the special prosecutor. We got Governor Cuomo to sign that and what that does is when there’s these senseless police killings, these unarmed killings, it takes it out of the hands of the local DA and puts it in the hands of the state attorney general. And we feel that gives us a fairer playing ground. It’s not law, but it’s a band-aid until we can get permanent legislation. And last year we tried to make that permanent law. We did get it out of the assembly, so this year we hope to get it out of the senate. We’re pushing.
HB: This segues into my next question for you. Justice looks very different to a lot of different people. Do you believe that there is justice for your family? And if so, what does that look like?
GC: Justice to me will be when all those police officers and anyone who was involved with my son’s death that day, stand accountable for their misconduct. And at that point I may not call it justice, but we can get some sort of closure. Because right now we have gotten nothing. And we’re still depending on the DOJ for their decision and we hope it will be a just decision and a positive decision.
HB: How long was the process to gather all of the assets and interviews for the series?
JT: Mr. Plummer did a lot of that work with my TV exec Andrew Wang, but it took a while. It was a little bit harder to get the law enforcement because it always is. There’s always going to be that protection. They’re going to always try to protect each other and make sure–because they wanted to know, and this is what I learned from Lemuel–they wanted to know what kind of angle were we coming from? Once they realized that we were trying to make it balanced, even though it wasn’t necessarily balanced, we still wanted someone from law enforcement to talk about it. And so, I think once they knew were going to try and make it as balanced as possible, then they agreed to be part of the show. It seemed like it was about a four-month, five month process.
HB: Are there any talks about doing a part two, specifically to focus on the police shootings of African-American women which has been largely ignored by mainstream media?
JT: I’m not sure. I would hope that TV One would say, “Hey let’s do something.” We’ve done four and we’re hoping that it sparks that kind of conversation that we hope it sparks. And then maybe there will be more room to focus on a lot more cases. But we will see what happens. But we’d like to continue if it’s possible.
HB: I want to ask about being a part of the Mothers of the Movement and if you could talk about your relationship with the other mothers who unfortunately lost their children to police violence?
GC: We traveled with Hillary [Clinton] trying to get her elected all of 2016 and there were basically six of us, but we are the face of the Mothers of the Movement. There are thousands of Mothers of the Movement who are out there because we don’t discount anyone. Anyone who’s in this unfortunate club is a Mother of the Movement, who is willing to do the work, and the ones who are not able or do not choose to do this work, we try working on them. We try comforting them to help to get them to a stage where they can get out and try to help make things better for our future. They have other children coming up, they have grandchildren, and even like you said about the women–so many women that are being abused and killed by the police that we do not mention. We touch on that also.
So we love on each other, we laugh together, we cry together. And when we’re together we do have a good time. The time that we spend with each other, we don’t feed on our tragedy. We feed on positivity. Or if we talk about our children, we talk about them in a positive way, in a positive light, not what happened. Sometimes people will come up to you and reenact everything that happened to your child. We don’t need that, we know that already. Sometimes you just say, “I support you, I follow you.” Now that’s beautiful. We need that.
HB: That makes me think about self-care because as Black women we talk about that a lot, how do you take care of yourself and how do you go about exhibiting self-care?
GC: Well I try to do things like with my family, with my daughter, with my grandchildren. They are a lot of comfort. They try to do things that I like and try to say things that they know that I would laugh at. As far as for myself, I try to keep busy. I try to do things that doesn’t make me sad. Or if I see another sad person I try to give them comfort. Giving them comfort comforts me. Because sometimes it seems like they are where I come from and now that I’ve been in the fight a little longer than them, I can offer some words of encouragement. Not all the time because sometimes when you listen to stories, one story gets worse than the other. These are stories that never hit the news. And so sometimes, when they tell me I have to bust into tears because I say, “Oh my God, she’s going through what I went through.”Some people are weaker than other people, they can’t take the pressure. Some people are on medication and they can’t get out of bed. All these people need help and people don’t realize–it’s really serious when you lose a child and how you cope with it and how people choose to cope with it. And in the beginning I did choose to just withdraw. But like I said, being that I am a religious person–I talk to God and I wait for a sign. And I think that’s the way. If not for that, I don’t know, I don’t know what I would’ve did or where I would be at this point.
HB: Your son’s death was in the middle of a very tumultuous year, it was Trayvon and then your son and Mike Brown. Living through it was probably the first time people in my generation understood what generations before went through. I wanted to know what your take is on the youth and their involvement in the movement, sparked by all of these tragedies?
GC: I think that the youth are very angry and they have a right to be because they see these deaths as it could’ve been them. They’re saying, “Wow, well if this happened to them, what will happen to me?” And it makes them rebellious in some ways. Just like when we were youth, we were rebellious against things because they weren’t happening they way that we thought they should happen. There was prejudice, there were things that my parents used to tell me. It didn’t happen to me because I was born here in New York City and we went to school with everybody. I went to school with Italians, with Irish, with Chinese, with everybody. But some people didn’t do that. For us to get to where they are, sometimes we have to be twice as good as they are. And we have to teach them, it’s not fair, but this is they way it is and you as youth, you can try to change this.
And the first thing you have to do is vote people in who you think will help you make these changes. A lot of the youth today they sit around and say, “I’m not going to vote because it’s not going to make any sense, and it does’ mater.” But they need to look at the background of voting. Not too long ago we didn’t have that right. We couldn’t even go and vote and now all we have to do is get up out of bed on the day we can vote. Don’t extinguish that right because you hear people saying, “It doesn’t matter.” Because if it didn’t matter, there wouldn’t be so many millionaires trying to restrict our vote. They wouldn’t be trying to get rid of polling places. We must instill in them–so many people died, so many people bled for us to get this right to vote and for that reason alone you go and vote and if you don’t like who’s on the poll then you go and get you a candidate that you can vote for, but don’t just sit back and say, “I’m not voting,” because someone is going to get in office whether you vote or not.
JT: I was a juvenile probation officer for 10 years in Texas, and I was an actor to so you always try to pour into kids. I think it’s important for parents and other adults, anybody in the family, anybody who’s grown, when you’re encountering young people to lift them up and give them the best advice. We have to affect our youth by just continuing to give them as much possible and give them the real truth. It’s got to be about what’s authentic, what’s real. And like Mrs. Carr just said, voting is like paramount. The national elections are great but when we’re talking about our communities, those are the folks that are really going to be doing the real work. They’re not just going to be talking, they’re going to be out there. Then if we do have police in our communities, then this person who’s in office is really going to be interfacing with these police officers, so these police officers get to know who you are.
They have to feel like they want to be invested in our communities. But we have to have people in these positions to be talking to those guys to say, “This is my community.” I was talking to a police officer friend of mine who’s been a police officer for 28 years, I was telling him about this because he saw our first episode and he was saying, “What I t think should happen is that they need to recruit guys that want to be in law enforcement, they should recruit them from these areas. hold some seminars, do stuff like that.” Then when those kids become police officers, put some of them in the neighborhood to be with the white police officers. And keep them there. Because now I know you, and now I know you. And so when we’re together, it takes the pressure off and it’s somebody who’s going to be able to interact in a different way. To take these things that kind of get out of sorts, kind of keep it in the pocket so that it doesn’t escalate to where things go sometimes. Those are just some of the things that I think could be really helpful with our youth.
HB: What’s been the feedback from the first episode and what do you hope people take from the series?
JT: Feedback has been incredible. That’s a good thing because that means that people are leaning in. That’s what it was always about from the beginning, to have people pay attention to this issue that’s rampant. The hope is that there’s more of a coming together. The hope is that it continues to create a dialogue. We got to keep fighting the good fight. In spite of slavery, in spite of Jim Crow, we’ve always continued to keep pressing. At this moment now with this disease. We have to keep talking and keep moving.
GC: Astronomical feedback from family. After the show they started calling me and I was getting texts all day long. Some of them were crying and analyzing as it was going. I’m so happy about that because now, just like they’ve seen it, thousands of other people have seen it and they can come to their own conclusion.
“Two Sides” airs on TV One on Monday’s at 10 p.m. ET.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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