Barry Michael Cooper, producer of the “American Gagster” profile of Larry Davis, knows a lot about storytelling and crime. In the 1980s, he was an award-winning journalist who covered crack dealers, hip-hop hustlers and Black-on-White conflicts for New York’s Village Voice. His investigation of crack culture in Detroit, ‘New Jack City Eats Its Young,’ inspired his screenplay for the 1991 film classic “New Jack City.” Barry also wrote the screenplays for hard core urban flicks like “Sugar Hill” and “Above the Rim.” During his years as a reporter, Barry interviewed Larry Davis and covered his shocking crime.
For Barry, Larry Davis is a “uniquely tragic story of a uniquely tragic young Black man, who, in another set of circumstances, could have been a music star, a beloved politician, or even a successful motivational speaker, but he will be forever known as the guy who shot his way out of an apartment full of almost 30 cops, wounding seven of them, and being acquitted of that shooting and the murder of four drug dealers.
Larry’s acquittal was a referendum on the racially and economically polarized climate of New York in the 1980s. New York during that time was a Petrie Dish of trickle up Reaganomics, where the rich got richer, and stayed rich. Larry was a Robin Hood of the Bronx: a Robin Hood who eventually got lost in the retribution of New York politicians who were determined to make sure Larry paid the price. And in February of this year, right before we were to interview him for “American Gangster,” he paid in full. He was murdered in the yard of Shawangunk Prison. Was it a disgruntled inmate who had it in for Larry, or something darker, more sinister, like a hit ordered by politicians with long memories? Who knows. I know one thing,: it It is something that will haunt me for a long time.”
It is this deep perspective on Davis, New York and crime that helped Barry put together the compelling story of Larry Davis, the first episode of the third season.
Because of the long, disgusting history of institutionalized racism in this country, the phrase “criminal act” is particularly loaded for African Americans. We can cite chapter and verse on the sins committed against us in the land of the free, from our enslavement here to our struggles to survive ever since. There’s no doubt that we have been the victim of “criminal acts” carried out by the U.S. government.
However, that does not excuse or erase the fact that many of the most gruesome, and in fact genocidal, acts perpetuated against Black people in this country have been committed by other Blacks. When a crack kingpin helps addict a city or a thug murders a rival in cold blood, those individuals must be held responsible for their actions. He or she, while living in a racist system, still must pay the price for taking a life.
As “American Gangster” enters its third season, this question of what constitutes a “criminal act” is a dominant theme. Was the Bronx shooter Larry Davis a hero when he survived a shootout with six New York City cops, an incident that sparked one of the largest manhunts in Big Apple history? Did Monster Kody redeem a life of homicidal violence with a series of children’s books that renounced gang-banging? Was Mutulu Shakur, Tupac’s step father, a political revolutionary or just a bank robber? Was longtime FBI head J. Edgar Hoover a patriot or a ruthless enemy of Black progress, using the justice system as his gang?
These new episodes take a close look at the crimes and punishments of our subjects. As one of the executive producers of “American Gangster,” I can assure our viewers that season three continues the high standard of quality storytelling we’ve established. Ving Rhames is back, bringing his authoritative voice to true tales from the streets, giving you a look at American history you won’t find in your history books. While some say only God can judge me, the truth is you – the viewer – are judge and jury when it comes to American gangsters. Peace.