“Quentin Tarantino said it like it is,” said Nicholas Heyward, the father of Nicholas Heyward Jr., who was shot and killed by police in 1994 after his toy gun was mistaken for real.
The Django Unchained director is caught in the middle of a media firestorm after a speech he gave at an anti-police brutality protest caught the attention of New York’s police union. The union has called for a boycott of the director’s work, Tarantino has done at least two televised interviews in response, and headlines capturing the back-and-forth abound.
The irony is that in Tarantino’s short time at the microphone, he emphasized ceding his time to families who lost loved ones to police shootings—and no one has heard from those families since the controversy began.
“[Tarantino] wasn’t saying all police officers are murders,” said Meko Williams, whose son LaReko Williams died after being tasered in 2011. “But they’re trying to make it seem like they’re calling every officer a murderer.”
“When I see murder I cannot stand by,” Tarantino said at the protest “And I have to call the murdered the murdered, and I have to call the murderers the murderers.”
The head of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, released a statement attacking the director for his speech. "The police officers that Quentin Tarantino calls 'murderers' aren't living in one of his depraved big screen fantasies,” he said. “They're risking and sometimes sacrificing their lives to protect communities from real crime and mayhem."
Philadelphia and Los Angeles police unions have joined in New York's boycott of Tarantino.
Heyward, whose son was 13 when he was killed, thanked Tarantino for lending his voice to the protest. “I don’t think [PBA President Patrick] Lynch has any right calling a boycott against an honorable, good man who came all the way from California to stand with families whose families have been murdered by police,” he said.
“Quentin was one of the ones who came forward,” said Heyward. The sentiment was shared by Williams. “Very few are willing to take that stand to speak the truth about what is really happening,” she said. “That these children are being murdered.”
Williams also found Tarantino’s position of power important to raise awareness about police-involved shootings. “From somebody with such high ranking, it did make me and a lot of other family members feel like ‘it’s not just us saying this, it’s someone else outside of us,’” she said. “It made me feel good that he called a dollar for a dollar.”
Director Michael Moore and the ACLU have also spoken out to defend Tarantino.
Despite Tarantino’s efforts, Heyward thinks the movement should be made up of more than just celebrities. “My demand today is for the people to rise up and step forward,” Heyward said. “I no longer have faith in the police department or anything like them for that matter.”
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.