In the new docu-series “America Divided,” which premieres Friday on Epix, the hip-hop star and actor Common returns to his hometown of Chicago, where deteriorating relations between police and minority communities are the backdrop to an epidemic of street violence. The situation worsened after the 2015 release of a police dashcam video showing a Chicago police officer repeatedly shooting at 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The video led to mass street protests, the removal of police superintendent Garry McCarthy, and the only prosecution of an on-duty officer for first-degree murder in the city's history.
In the first of two exclusive clips from the show, Common sits down with McCarthy not long after his firing. McCarthy reflects on the nature of gun violence in Chicago and gives a nuanced analysis of why some communities distrust the police. “You move from slavery to black codes to segregation to Jim Crow,” McCarthy says. “Now who was it who was doing the enforcement of all those racist policies? It was the white policeman. So there’s a narrative that is well-deserved.”
In the second clip, Common travels to Sheridan Correctional Center, a medium security prison. There he joins a discussion group led by Benny Lee, a former prisoner himself, who quotes Frederick Douglass as he advises inmates on dealing with the challenges they’ll face when they’re released. “I’ve been out of prison 32 years” Lee tells the group of men, “and there are still licenses I can’t apply for because of my prior convictions….So it’s going to be a struggle making your transition back to your community.”
“America Divided” is an eight-story, five-part series featuring narratives focusing on inequality in education, housing, health care, labor, criminal justice and the political system. The show follows well-known correspondents — Common, Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, Zach Galifianakis, Norman Lear, Amy Poehler, Peter Sarsgaard, and Jesse Williams — as they explore aspects of inequality related to their own life stories.