20-year-old Corey Pitman was home on summer vacation when on May 23, 1997, along with four friends, they got into a car to watch a movie.
As the group approached the intersection of South 15th Street and South Ridgewood Avenue on Tacoma Hilltop, a shooting erupted from a nearby car. Pittman’s car crashed and his friends, two of whom were shot, ran into cover.
Then they realized that Pitman had not gotten out of the car.
Pittman, a popular Lincoln High School graduate, was a sophomore at the University of Alabama and studied political science.
“He was a role model for some of us,” said Eric French, one of the textbooks at Pittman’s funeral. “He lived by things that for some of us are dreams.”
Using only interviews, archival footage and art, director Gilda Sheppard unravels the dense fabric that connects victims, criminals, gang members, families and those who have a role in the criminal justice system. Sheppard’s camera transports viewers to Washington’s prisons, where former Tacoma gangsters have spent most of their lives.
The introduction to the film compares an interview with Ma’Shana Davis, who was in a car with Pitman that night, with a former gang member who killed Pitman.
“She’s talking about her fear, her trauma,” Sheppard said in an interview with The News Tribune this week.
“I’m addicted to being afraid of me,” said former gang member Billy Griffin. The pain they inflicted and the price they paid were profound.
“All my friends are either now in prison, forever, or dead.”
“Since I was down”
The 105-minute film, which premiered at film festivals in 2020, begs the question – what is justice? – how it revolves between the 1990s and today.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, gangs transplanted from California roamed Tacoma.
On that fateful night in 1997, Pitman and his friends fell victim to a false identity. The shooters thought they were shooting at members of a rival gang.
A 15-year-old boy, two 18-year-olds and two other men aged 19 and 20 were detained for the crime. Sheppard’s lens focuses on one of these 18-year-old shooters, Kimanti Carter, convicted and sentenced to life in prison under Washington’s “Three Strikes” law.
Sheppard’s documentary explores institutional racism, the long-term effects of the red line, and the role of poverty in crime and the justice system.
“Poverty was a puddle of gasoline waiting for hot matches of gangs, drugs and prostitution,” said Mary Flowers, a defender of racial justice. “It affected the youth very much.”
Until last week, Sheppard was a professor of sociology Evergreen State College in Tacoma. “Since I Been Down” was created 12 years ago, and now it is fully engaged in film production.
Although the people in her film are now middle-aged adults, their stories begin in childhood. By the time they reached adulthood, they were well trained in crime.
Sheppard hopes young people will become the main audience of her film. She also wants it to be seen by adults who hold key influential positions.
“We need to see how we teach our children in schools,” Sheppard said. “Now we have a thing like let’s not talk about race or racism because they’re afraid of it.”
This is a link to a hot button problem critical theory of race.
In 1993, Washington became the first state to initiate the Three Strikes Act, which gained popularity across the country. Laws, as they were written differently, impose life imprisonment if a person commits a third crime.
It was an era when terms such as “high criminalization” and “super predator” came into vogue.
The atmosphere was fueled by the media.
“The naughty people on the hill have to pay the price,” reads an article in The News Tribune. “A gang of teenagers is chasing Hiltop,” the headline reported.
Washington has no parole system for criminals who committed their crimes after July 1, 1984.
Neither the film nor the imprisoned people present themselves as innocent. Some are guilty of Tacoma’s most heinous crimes, including The assassination of Camilla Love in 2010 – another case of false identity.
The film, shot mostly in Hiltop and state prisons, details how men were recruited into gangs, sometimes before puberty.
The news footage shows the juvenile defendants below the deputy’s shoulder leading down the corridors.
Today Carter is involved in The caucus of black captivesa group working behind bars to put an end to discrimination, inequality and oppression in the communities from which they come.
Men often cross the infamous racial boundaries of the prison system to find common ground.
“I would never approach a guy with a swastika and say, ‘Hey, man, there’s an opportunity to get an education and you can study with me.’ Never. But I see it happening in prison, ”Sheppard said.
Carter was first arrested as an 11-year-old escapee when he inadvertently rode his bicycle to the crime scene. He was taken to the juvenile hall, where he met active gang members. For the impressive young man, who by then wanted to become a paper, the money and power from drug sales was intoxicating.
“Some people think they were someone in the gang’s lifestyle,” Carter said in the film. “You were important to a certain group of people. They prefer to be important tyrants than ordinary citizens. “
He was just 18 when he killed Pitman. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1995, the state legislature passed a bill that required life imprisonment for anyone convicted of first-degree murder during a car shooting. It still works today.
“It was a clear reaction to the fear of blacks and Hispanics,” Carter’s lawyer Jeff Ellis said in the film.
Transferred from Monroe Prison to Clallum Bay, Carter began a cacus of black prisoners there. This is praised by officials of the State Penitentiary Department.
Davis, a friend of Pitman and one of Carter’s victims, talks about the attempts she made to contact Carter after hearing that Carter was improving.
“I started writing to him and then threw it away,” Davis says. “I’ve done it probably six or seven times.” She surrendered.
A few months later, Carter finally reached out to her and apologized. Davis told him she could not forget or justify his actions. But she forgave him.
“I must forgive you for allowing yourself to move on and be treated,” she told him.
The $ 10 allowance that Tacoma mother Ginny Parkham gave to her 11-year-old son, Willie Nobles, could not compete with the $ 1,000 in cash given to him by senior gang members in the 1990s.
One day her son told her he would not go to school. She told him otherwise. He made a phone call. Soon gang members appeared near her house, gleaming with guns.
“I felt so helpless,” Parham says in the film.
Nobles is one of the people interviewed in Since Since Been Down. At age 17, he was arrested for murder and sentenced to 100 years in prison.
Noble, who grew up on Tacoma’s East Side, was Carter’s childhood rival. In the film, they run a gathering of black prisoners Clalum Bay.
When he was a boy in Tacoma, gangster life was cult, giving him power and prestige not by age.
“I used to think that not gangbang was a sign of weakness,” Nobles said.
Former Tacoma police detectives John Ringer and Barry McCallman are interviewed in the film.
Ringer shows a notebook in which detectives wrote down the names and photos of gang members.
“They found out we had it, and everyone wanted to see it,” Ringer says. “Some of them came up and said, ‘My face isn’t there,’ and posed for a photo.”
The men say the gang leaders were smart and natural leaders.
Former detectives say they had a better job at the police department and were mostly unattended while they were giving results.
“I didn’t want to look at them as bad cops,” Sheppard said. “But look at the practice of the police.”
Sheppard asks men, what is justice? The question puzzles them.
“I told these two officers that I was going to ask them this question before they came,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard interviewed Tacoma’s members Black team in the film, including Lyle Quasim, Jim Walton and the late Harold Moss. They talk about the atmosphere that made young people vulnerable to gang manipulation.
“We were closed economically,” says Kvasim.
“The main problems have not changed,” he continued. “Inconsistency with education, with employment, with health care, with transport, with housing.”
The result is drugs, gangs and violence.
“These are the results,” Kvasim says. “This is not input. Inputs are the imbalances that lead to this. ”
Carter says young people remain vulnerable to repeating his story.
“My reality as a young man serving a life in prison will be their future if we don’t start creating better ways to communicate with our children.”
This story was originally published May 30, 2022 5:00 p.m.