Saturday, November 6, 2010

US Television: Outlaw, Episode 1.7, "In RE: Kelvin Jones"

Season One, Episode Seven, In RE:  Kelvin Jones
Original Air Date:  November 5, 2010 (Canada), November 6, 2010 (U.S.)

A young, black honor student is killed by a gunman at the Cyrus Garza School in Alabama.  The school is located in a district where predominately black schools do not receive the funding that white schools do.  Cyrus, wanting the school that bears his name, to protect each and every student attending it, files a wrongful death suit against the district and the school.  When that fails to achieve what he wants, Cyrus amends the action to include a class-action suit against the county.  Meanwhile, the police ask Cyrus and his team what they might know about the death of Ben Kershaw while Eddie questions Lucinda about any involvement she might have had in Kershaw's death.  Lucinda becomes a suspect when the death is changed from suicide to homicide.

An armed man enters the Alabama campus of Cyrus Garza School and fires upon three young men standing in front of a drink machine.  Two of them young men run but the third, an honor student, Kelvin Jones, is killed.  Eddie gets into work after having tried to call Lucinda all night.  He wants to know if she killed Kershaw.  Al and Cyrus interrupt their conversation as they enter the kitchen talking about the shooting at the school.

A police detective calls at the house showing a photograph of Ben Kershaw.  Mereta can't make a positive identification of Kershaw as the man who attacked her in the car.  When the detective leaves, Cyrus asks everyone to give him a minute.  Everyone, that is, except Lucinda.  Cyrus questions her about Kershaw but Lucinda wants to "plead the fifth".  He lets her off the hook only because he needs to leave for Alabama but assures her they will talk about it once he gets home.

In Alabama, Cyrus learns more about Kelvin Jones.  He was a special young man according to his principal.  The school doesn't have metal detectors or security guards because they can't afford them.  They can barely afford teachers.  The only insulation they have is "duct tape on windows".  The school took Garza's name in 1999.

Cyrus goes to the Jones home to pay his respects.  Kelvin's father asks him to leave.  For two years they had requested a transfer for their son to another school, Centennial, a better school that would have been safer for their son and helped him achieve his scholastic ambitions.  The district hasn't responded to any of their requests.  The same holds true for their daughter. 

Cyrus calls Al about the situation at Garza School.  He is outraged that segregation still appears to be alive and well in school systems.  He wants Al and Mereta to get to Alabama ASAP as he will be speaking at a memorial and he wants them there for that.

At the memorial for Kelvin, Cyrus questions the school board as to how many of their children attend Cyrus Garza School.  None do.  He announces that, on behalf of Kelvin's family, he is filing a wrongful death case against the school district and the school.  "If it's gonna bear my name, it's gonna do right by these kids."

Kelvin's parents present Cyrus with a tassel bearing "'12".  Two-thousand-twelve is the year Kelvin would have graduated.  However, the tassel didn't belong to Kelvin.  It was his grandfather's.  He graduated in 1912 from the same school.  Cyrus tells them he will hold the tassel for good luck and, if they win, he will give it back to them.  He doesn't sugar coat the fact that they are fighting an uphill battle and very well may not win.

Kelvin's younger sister, Kara, testifies in court that everyone at the school knows about the gangs because the gangs put themselves right out in the open.  She testifies that the "sets" pretty much control the school.  She tells about how the gangs disrupt schools and, when she starts to testify about how the teachers will not stop them, the defense attorney, Victor Harmon (Jason Gray-Stanford), objects.  He claims that the school cannot be held responsible for Kelvin's death but Cyrus disagrees.  Judge William Stanley asks Cyrus if he is saying the school had knowledge that the murder of Kelvin Jones was going to happen.  Cyrus cannot the school did.

Eddie and Lucinda are back in Washington gathering statistics to send to Garza, Al and Mereta.  The doorbell rings and it is the police detective.  He is there with an envelope of photographs that were found in the trunk of Kershaw's car.  They are all of Lucinda.  The investigation has moved from suicide to homicide when GSR comes back that Kershaw's hands were clean. 

The judge rules against Garza.  Before the judge can dismiss court, Cyrus, who is upset over the ruling, amends his action.  He files a class-action suit against the county and entire school system for the willful and deliberate segregation of the public schools in direct violation of the 14th Amendment.  The judge calls Cyrus and the defense attorney up before him.  He applauds Cyrus' determination and, off the record, he admits he might very well be on to something, but, before he will certify the class-action suit he needs to earn it:  he must have 300 plaintiffs.  He gives him 48 hours.

It's an uphill struggle to get enough names to give to the judge.  One man signs but tells Al that 20 years ago his father signed a petition to improve the schools and he suspects that in 20 years, his son will be signing another one.  One woman declines when she asks what the lawyers cut of the $7 million asked for in the suit will be and finds it is 33%.  They get a lot of doors closed in their faces and people that walk on by without even listening to what they have to say.

In Washington, Eddie is serving as counsel for Lucinda who is being questioned by the detective investigating the death of Ben Kershaw.  He wants a DNA sample to match or rule against Lucinda for skin samples they found beneath Kershaw's fingernails.  When the detective leaves the room, Lucinda tells Eddie she can't consent to give her DNA as they will find something even though she is adamant she didn't kill him. 

After a day of trying to get enough signatures to hand the judge, Cyrus, Al and Mereta are left with a meager 41.  Cyrus feels they need to find someone with a following that will join the suit.  He goes to the mayor, at Kelvin's funeral, and presents the situation to him and that he can run on a platform of educational reform when he comes up for re-election the following year.  The mayor agrees to go along with Cyrus but he wants a press release the following morning calling him a 'great humanitarian'. 

The first part of the problem is proving the county is intentionally dividing the students between the two schools it has, one that is predominately black and the other that is predominately white.  They need a great first witness and Mereta has just the man:  Archibald Breech (John Cothran, Jr.).  Breech was the only member of the school board that came out to support them. 

On the witness stand, Breech is familiar with the demographics of the county.  He states how the two districts in the county are supposed to work:  you go to school in the district where you live.  But things do not go that way.  Each school should be approximately 70% black and 30% white but the statistics are the opposite.  Centennial Academy is 70% white and 30% black.  He testifies that is because over 300 white students each year have been allowed to transfer from Cyrus Garza to Centennial.  Breech testifies that the county willingly transfers the students from Cyrus Garza to Centennial.  The defense attorney questions Breech about why he approved each transfer.  Breech testifies that he didn't speak up and that is something he will have to live with but the politics of the school board prevented him from causing trouble.

Lucinda is released when the police get a hit off the DNA found under Kershaw's nails.  They know she didn't kill him.  Kershaw's wife was the one who killed him.  As Lucinda and Eddie are leaving, Kershaw's wife stops Lucinda and asks her if Valerie is alright.  Lucinda assures her that she is.

Marvin Jackson, the man in charge of routing all the school buses in the county is next to testify.  He testifies about how the bus routes have been affected by the transfers.  He claims he could cut at least 6 buses from his fleet if he didn't have to deal with all the cross-town transfers.  He testifies that the white children are bussed directly past Garza school to get to Centennial.

Several people in the court get up and leave and Kelvin's father speaks to Al.  The court must take a recess as something is happening at the Cyrus Garza school.  The county is shutting down all bus routes temporarily to both schools.  The superintendent holds a press conference on the steps of Garza School that the county "cannot afford" bus service as well as defending themselves against Garza's class-action suit and that getting the kids to and from school is now the responsibility of the parents.  The superintendent claims the decision wasn't "his call" and that the decision was made for him by Cyrus.  Sports and all extracurricular activities have also been called off until the case has been resolved.  The superintendent leaves Cyrus to answer all the questions from the parents and press.

The superintendent testifies in court that he takes any charge of racism in schools to be a personal attack.  Cyrus objects when the defense attorney presents information to the witness almost in the manner of testifying.  The superintendent implies that the segregation problem isn't with the school board and the county but with the public, the families themselves.  He testifies, when questioned by Cyrus that he was aware the transferring of white students was causing segregation in the schools.  Cyrus then asks if he is familiar with the term "clustering".  Cyrus presents him with the data that the white students left at Cyrus Garza are clustered into classes by themselves to which the superintendent replies that students learn better when they are comfortable.

They need to prove that Kelvin's application for transfer was denied because he was black, something the superintendent claims never happens, despite that Kelvin was the only application denied out of 300.  They go to the superintendents former assistant who was "promoted" out of her old job into the position of teaching 6th grade in another county.  Al goes to speak with Penny Rogovin (Desiree Hall) about Kelvin's application.  She corrects them that she was not promoted.  She was fired because she knew the hundreds of granted transfers every year was wrong.  She told the superintendent but was ordered to grant the transfers anyway.  She tells them they all loved Kelvin and that they did receive the requests for his transfer but the school never had a chance to respond. 

Penny testifies that Kelvin had come to see her personally in the office because he knew his father had made the transfer requests.  He had requested that she withdraw the applications and, even though he was a minor and the decision wasn't his, she gave him the forms back.  Kelvin's reason for not wanting the transfer was that he didn't want to go to a white school.  He wanted to stay at his school and help make it better because he was proud of it.  She also testifies that she knew of the segregation and that she showed Superintendent Garver the numbers but he told her to grant the transfers because "he didn't want to get involved".

Eddie arrives at work to find a present waiting on him from Lucinda.  He apologizes to her for doubting her and acknowledges that she helped rescue Valerie.  She confesses that she doesn't just help rescue abused kids, she was an abused kid.  Her DNA is on file with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children which is why she refused to give her DNA to the police.  The present is a pocket protector.

Cyrus delivers his closing arguments stating the situation in Hastings County, Alabama is unacceptable to him and it should be to every member of the jury.  Instead of going backwards after fifty-six years, they should take a step forward today.  The defense maintains in his closing that every transfer was handled in a manner that wasn't promoting racism and that they should be able to get back to the business of teaching.  In his rebuttal, Cyrus states that Kelvin Jones didn't see things that way.  The jury finds in favor of Cyrus and his team and awards an amount of $11 million. 

Cyrus asks to approach to say something before the judge adjourns.  The judge isn't about to adjourn as he wants to issue an order of his own.  He is instructing the county to stop all transfers and take all necessary steps to integrate both schools.  Cyrus suggests instead that the judge orders the schools to merge since Garza school will take years to get up to code.  The new name for the school will be the Kelvin Jones School. 

Cyrus takes the tassel from his briefcase and tells the Jones family he would like to keep it and will pay $3.6 million for it.  They want to start a scholarship in Kelvin's name using their proceeds from the lawsuit.

Another excellent episode.  I thought this one gave us another good look into Cyrus' personality.  He was genuinely concerned about the well-being of the students at the school bearing his name.  When one method didn't work, he jumped right into another.  He was determined to do what was right to move forward rather than backward.  I think this was probably the first case where Cyrus wasn't the only one who agreed with his actions.  Al, nor any other member of the team, wasn't fighting against him.  Everyone was on board.  I liked that.

We got a bit more insight into Lucinda and her past this episode as well.  I think Eddie has come to respect her much more than he did at the start of this all-too short series.  I've liked Lucinda since the get-go and she is still one of my favorite characters on Outlaw.  She's colorful, outspoken and takes nothing from no one.  Boy, am I really going to hate to see this series end next week.

The final episode of Outlaw airs on Saturday, November 13, 2010 at 10:00 p.m. (9:00 p.m. Central) on NBC.
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