I wasn’t prepared for the emotional gut-punch that was this week’s Conviction. Given everything that’s happened over the past week — let alone the past few years — it all felt a little too real, a little too raw, to open at the scene of a protest for racial equality that ends in the shooting death of a police officer. But this is TV at its best, when it forces you to confront the hard truths and uncomfortable realities of the world we’re living in.
The aforementioned rally is a flashback to an event six years in the past and serves as an introduction to the CIU’s current case of the week. As the city responds to the recent killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white cop, Hayes decides it’s the perfect time to revisit another racially charged case: the death of Sgt. Kelsey Blake, the officer who argued with the organizer of the episode’s opening demonstration just before being shot in the neck and dying of her injuries. The original prosecutor in the case against Porscha Williams — convicted of Blake’s murder and sentenced to life in prison — would have you believe those events to be causal, but the CIU isn’t so sure.
Case No. 6: Porscha Williams
Williams, a black activist committed to nonviolence and described by the show as inspiration for the Black Lives Matter movement, was convicted in less than three hours by an all-white jury in Albany, where the trial was moved. The basis for the guilty verdict? Eyewitnesses who said they saw her with a gun at the rally, one witness who claimed he saw her fire the shot, and the presence of gunshot residue on her hands.
What makes “#StayWoke” the series’ best so far is how it focuses on the differing perspectives of the CIU team — especially Maxine (played by Merrin Dungey), who’s given a chance to shine as she’s forced to reconcile her past as a cop with her identity as a black woman raising a son in today’s America. Her interactions with Williams (Susan Heyward, Vinyl, Powers) are some of the hour’s best scenes, which see the two women clash over what it means to be black and fight for equality. In one noteworthy exchange, Maxine seems to admonish Porscha: “Sometimes when you shout, the message gets lost.” Porscha, for her part, is quick to bite right back: “And when we sit quietly in our place, they ignore us.”
The CIU gets to work re-interviewing the eyewitnesses who helped put Porscha behind bars, while Frankie uses the power of social media and technology to create a 360-degree view of what really happened at the protest that day. That’s how they learn Charlie Rossmore, the witness who testified he saw Porscha fire the shot, was actually bashing in a cop car with a baseball bat at the time — a block from where the shooting took place. As it turns out, he lied to give himself an alibi for the vandalism he committed.
NEXT: The “other-race effect”