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Documentary Film ‘When Claude Got Shot’ Examines Gun Violence, Incarceration, Forgiveness And Redemption

Produced by Snoop Dogg and Brad Lichtenstein, the film premieres on PBS’s “Independent Lens” on May 9.

Claude Motley had everything going for him. In 2014, the husband and father of three, was in his third year of law school when he decided to visit family and friends in his hometown of Milwaukee. Motley was sitting in his car when he was attacked during a botched carjacking. The trajectory of his entire life changed in one split moment.

Although the bullet shattered his jaw, Motley was still able to drive himself to the nearest emergency room. The surgery he received ultimately saved his life, but the physical and mental scars would continue to torment him, including having to watch his attacker, 15-year-old Nathan King, become just another statistical aspect of the criminal justice system.

After that encounter, King and his friends continued their violent carjacking spree. He never could have imagined that their next carjacking target, Victoria Davison, a nursing student, was licensed to carry a concealed weapon for protection. She fired at King in self-defense, leaving him partially paralyzed.

Motley’s story unfolds in the gripping, new documentary film, When Claude Got Shot, an intimate, complex look at that night and the subsequent events to follow. Viewers will see how Motley’s near-death experience completely altered his life and why the anguish he feels about King dictates his response to the crime. At one dramatic point in the film, Motley and King actually sit face-to-face and speak with each other for the first time about what happened that night.

The film also examines the environment that contributes to young Black men like King who stumble into a self-destructive path that results in criminality, death or incarceration. Where else is there to go for young Black men in a place like Wisconsin, where one in 36 Black adults is in prison in a state that has the highest Black incarceration rate in the nation?

Five years in the making, the film is directed and produced by Brad Lichtenstein and executive produced by Snoop Dogg. It debuted in 2021 at the SXSW Film Festival in the Documentary Spotlight section. Now, the film makes its television broadcast premiere on May 9 on PBS’s Independent Lens at 10:00 p.m. ET.

BET.com sat down with Motley to talk about his harrowing experience, his conflicts around King’s punishment and the deeper discussion we should all be having about criminality in our country.

BET.com: Why was it so important for you to have this story told?

Claude Motley: I don’t look at this as my story. It’s the story of thousands of people who go through the same thing, especially in Milwaukee, which is one of the most violent cities and most segregated. Growing up in that environment, you always carry that trauma.

When I first got shot, I wanted people to realize what was happening in the city because it's almost to a point where people just filed it away as just another bad thing that happened. But it's more than just a 30-second news clip. It goes a lot deeper because it happens to almost every family that I know. So I just really wanted that to be documented and people can relate to it not just in our city of Milwaukee but all across this country.

BET.com: What impact do you hope this film has on viewers?

Claude Motley: I wanted to reveal that this is something that encompasses all our lives, not just the Black community, but across America. As a society, we’re only as strong as our weakest link. And if we continue to act as if this violence and these incidents are just happening in certain places, then we're mistaken.

I want to find solutions so that we can start changing some of the things that cause these problems. When I thought about Nathan and how I wanted [the criminal justice system] to deal with him, I understood the environment he grew up in and the choices that he faced.

The young men in our society face the same choices when it comes down to doing the right or wrong thing. And I want to show people that there are alternatives to these choices and that we are also responsible for the environment these kids are growing up [in].

BET.com: So, what are the solutions?

Claude Motley: One of the things that we have to realize is that we didn't get to this point overnight. You know, I look at it through my business background. We're starting to see the results of compound interest in a lot of things when it comes down to incarceration, breaking up the Black family and the inequity in society.

How do we change things? Number one, we definitely have to deal with the emergency that's happening right now––guns in people’s hands. A 15-year-old should not have a gun.

Next, we have to talk about the reasons why people are picking up guns and think that’s the answer. Also, we have such a high incarceration rate, we have to think about reintegrating those people into our society.

How do we give hope to people when it comes down to equities and employment equity? That definitely goes to how a person feels within their society, their sense of pride, feeling wanted and how we see ourselves in America.

We shouldn’t be afraid to actually talk about these things. That’s one of the problems. We're not trying to talk about the issues. We're trying to avoid the hardest issues.

Courtesy of Brad Lichtenstein

BET.com: When the judge was sentencing Nathan, he allowed the victims to come and give their statements. You admitted to the judge that you felt conflicted about whether Nathan should receive a harsh or a lenient sentence. What were you conflicted about?

Claude Motley: There are consequences, and you want to make that clear to anyone who decides to do something wrong or harmful. We're especially dealing with a young person. I didn’t want to judge him at his lowest points.

I knew that I was sending another Black man to jail. And that is something that I have grown up with my whole life hating to see how it affects that person and their family.

BET.com: Nathan and you finally met face-to-face. What went through your mind sitting across from the person who shot you?

Claude Motley: Up to that point, all I knew about Nathan was what other people told me. And oftentimes, that information is biased by whoever gives it.

When I sat across from him, I could not stop thinking that this was a child. This was a child who made the wrong choice in a grown-up situation. I really understood that I was talking to someone who needed time for his brain to fully develop.

VIDEO: DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY BLACK CHILDREN ARE AFFECTED BY GUN VIOLENCE?

BET.com: How did this whole experience change you?

Claude Motley: I think that you always strive to do better in life and always try to achieve something. As a Black male, you know, there are always obstacles in front of you that you have to overcome.

I felt that this was one of the biggest hurdles that you can overcome. But it also made me stronger. This has pushed me in a different direction. It's a more fulfilling direction.

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