Law & Order: Season 1, Episode 11

Out of the Half-Light (11 Dec. 1990)

TV Episode  -   -  Crime | Drama | Mystery
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Ratings: 7.8/10 from 123 users  
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A young black girl claims to have been raped by white police officers. Police and Prosecutors struggle to get the truth after an ambitious black congressman claims the investigation is a racially-motivated cover-up.



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Title: Out of the Half-Light (11 Dec 1990)

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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Congressman Ronald Eaton
Billie Neal ...
Angela Wilkes
Lester Crawford (as Frankie R. Faison)
Sandra Reaves-Phillips ...
Mrs. Thelma Crawford
Judge Gloria Crutcher
Graham Brown ...
Kisha Miller ...
Astrea Crawford
Kelly Cinnante ...


Sgt. Greevey and Det. Briscoe investigate the rape of 16 year-old African-American girl, Astrea Crawford, who was found in a pile of garbage. It take a few minutes to get her to say anything but she eventually tells them that she was attacked by two white policemen. The girl had been missing from home for 3 days and the police soon find themselves up against Congressman Ronald Eaton, a civil rights activist with a penchant to go to the media at every opportunity. The family refuses to cooperate with the police and Eaton grants the girl sanctuary in a former church. With tensions rising, ADA Stone takes over the case but concludes Eaton doesn't want them to solve it. He also begins to doubt the girl was ever raped in the first place. Written by garykmcd

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Release Date:

11 December 1990 (USA)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Executive A.D.A. Ben Stone: Do you think of yourself as a black lawyer or a lawyer who's black?
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References Modern Times (1936) See more »

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User Reviews

Racism Works.
16 November 2011 | by (Deming, New Mexico, USA) – See all my reviews

This episode really is "ripped from the headlines." In 1987, a 15-year-old African-American girl, Tawana Brawley, was found wrapped in a garbage bag in a town in Dutchess County, New York state, after having been missing for three days. Some of her clothes had been burned, her shoe cut, and her body had slurs written on the chest in charcoal. At first uncommunicative, she finally claimed to have been abducted and raped by white men, some of them police officers. There was intense media interest. The Rev. Al Sharpton and two attorneys accused the media of covering up the incident, naming an Assistant District Attorney as one of those involved.

However, there was no evidence of her having been abused or raped. The slurs on her body, written in charcoal, were upside down, suggesting she had written them herself. It developed during the Grand Jury testimony that Tawana Brawley was terrified of her father's anger. He didn't want her staying out with boys and tried to beat her at the police station. He'd also stabbed his wife 14 times and later shot her.

Support for Brawley in the black community dwindled without ever completely dying away. Her defense fund dried up, and Sharpton was successfully sued for defamation.

The case is almost a prelude to that of Susan Smith, a young mother in South Carolina who claimed a black man had hijacked her car with her three children in it, in 1995. It became clear later that she had rolled her car into a lake and drowned her children in order to be with a man who didn't want a ready made family. Susan Smith is serving a life term. The Brawley incident also anticipated Charles Stuart's murder of his pregnant wife in Revere, Massachusetts, in 1989, and concocting a black assailant. The event was evidently set up by the husband, who committed suicide later.

The point of these cases, the part that makes them interesting, is not that the three people who staged the crimes were racists, but that they chose to invent perpetrators who would be acceptable to the people in their own communities. In other words, Brawley, Smith, and Stuart need not have been racists at all, though they're often called that. They had simply chosen the most plausible figures as the villains in the story. People commit racist acts because racial animosity is characteristic of their neighborhoods. The problem isn't just one of personality, but of social systems.

This episode, as is usual, doesn't deal with the sociological implications of its story directly. It raises them and then discards them for more dramatic, easily grasped, and commercially profitable confrontations between individuals in a legal setting. The issue becomes, not why the girl did what she did, but how is Assistant DA Stone and his crew going to make their case? It's a shame, really, to sidestep such an interesting question but the episode is important for raising it in the first place. Things haven't changed that much since the French political scientist, Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s, and the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal in the 1940s, both identified race as the greatest fault line dividing Americans. One of the more effective ways to cover up your misbehavior is to blame it on someone of the other race. The story makes one think about statements like these, and that puts it ahead of most television junk.

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