This is a two-part investigation into a killing. The viewer is left in no doubt that a white man in his mid-forties, Russell Courtier, in his Jeep, ran over and killed a black man, nineteen-year old Larnell Bruce. We are shown CCTV footage from outside the supermarket of what happened and its aftermath. Then shown how far Bruce’s body was pushed by the vehicle mapped out by A to B by forensics with the blood still on the road. Bruce is dead. Courtier killed him. Open and shut case.
But this is Portland, Oregon. Throw into the mix Oregon’s racist past, a white’s only state, with more Ku Klux Klan member’s demographically that anywhere else, depicted in Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad. Whisper it America’s racist past, where blacks in the Lyndon Johnston era were told not to bother registering to vote and presented with a bullet as a gift if they did. Black (and poor white) votes were also disregarded and stolen. Think about how rich Republicans got together to fund legal action to recount chads to get President George W Bush elected and to thwart a Democrat candidate. How money moves to the white and the right. How the birthing movement was used by the moron’s moron on the campaign trail, by the now President Trump, to challenge the validity of President Obama holding public office.
Throw into the mix the decision by the prosecution to add to the charge sheet that this was a racially motivated crime. Russell Courtier had spent most of his working life in prison and was a member of the white-supremacy European Kindred gang. He had the marking of the gang’s tattoo on his leg. He was wearing a European Kindred cap when he killed Larnell Bruce.
Throw into the mix the BBC’s representative, journalist Mobeen Azhar, a British Muslim with Pakistani origins and give him access to family members of the victim, the killer, and former members of his prison gang and wait for it to fizzle.
Add to the drama at the trail, when the police expert was shown by the defence to get his sums all wrong. The defence lawyer pointed out that he’d confused kilometres-per-hour with miles-per-hour. Back to police school for him.
But the big reveal for the defence was that Larnell Bruce was holding a machete when he approached the Jeep. A female witness said that Larnell was at the convenience store trying to sell the machete. This is about believable as Russell Courtier’s mum and brother’s view that their son and brother wasn’t really racist and just happened to get into a fight with a black man.
The cartoonish some-of- my-best-friends-are-black argument is tested by their interrogator a British Pakistani. But I didn’t really take to Mobeen Azhar as a presenter. Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in the company of Louis Theroux where every expression from mock disbelief to indignation is expressed by a cocked eyebrow. And the Case That Shook America, after early dramatics, doesn’t shake very much, not my belief in the American legal or economic system. It doesn’t prove very much at all. Intent is a balloon that floats or is pricked. But, for the record, the defence, despite their early blooper, walked away wrapped in American Glory.