SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- "American Justice on Trial" documents the 1968 trial of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton, accused of killing a white police officer and wounding another during a traffic stop in Oakland. Newton was also injured.
Marin County resident Andrew Abrahams co-directed the film about the trial, which featured a female co-counsel defense and diverse jury. His defense insisted Newton acted in self-defense.
"It was really monumental in the process of minimizing racism in the jury selection process," Abrahams said. "So it, in a way, the trial put racism itself on the stand. And that had never happened before."
David Harper became the first Black jury foreman of a major murder trial. He shares his experiences in the film.
"With a job at Bank of America, lending officer there, I said I'm not going to skirt this for my own safety, I need to be there and as a Black man, supporting whatever is going on," Harper said. "Whether he's guilty or not, we're going to have justice."
Newton was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not the more serious charge of murder.
"The biggest difference really is to have diversity... in the jury process, that in really every step of the criminal justice system, that the community has to be involved," Abrahams said.
Harper admits he had different life goals before the trial.
"I was concerned about my progress," Harper said. "I went to Arizona State, got an accounting degree. Kennedy became president. I said I'm just going to integrate."
"Before Newton, it was all for me," Harper said. "I was not concerned about the community until Newton told me I should be concerned about it, that I was the arch enemy to Black folk by giving my skills away to the white community."
The trial changed the direction of his life.
"I wanted to go up in the major banking facilities and I gave that up to bring it back to the community based on what Newton had said," Harper said.
Herb Ferrette co-directed the film with Abrahams. Lise Pearlman and Abby Ginzberg co-produced the film.
The film premieres at the 65th San Francisco Film Festival on Friday, April 22 at 6 p.m. at the Roxie Theater.
Learn more about the film here.
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