‘Boys in Blue’ shows how to turn pain into power

The documentary series spotlights the humanity of North Minneapolis, the North High School football team and their coaches, who are Minneapolis police officers.


The world is not black and white. But sometimes, it gets reduced to that.
All cops are bad.
All criminals are bad.
All [insert any group] are bad.
Those kinds of blanket statements are not helpful. People can do bad things. There can be bad systems. That does not mean they are all bad people. One bad apple doesn’t ruin the whole bunch. But this type of binary thinking – you’re either good or bad – has become far too common today.
Could 2023 be the year we change this way of thinking and being?
Violent crime declined in Minneapolis in 2022, but rates are still above normal. Even though the numbers suggest the city is moving in the right direction, there is still uneasiness and lingering tensions between pro- and anti-police factions.
A new documentary series called “Boys in Blue” by award-winning filmmaker Peter Berg (“Friday Night Night Lights,” “Very Bad Things,” “Lone Survivor,” “The Kingdom”) examines this tension with a spotlight on North Minneapolis and the North High School Polars football team during the 2021 season.
The North team is coached by Minneapolis police officers, who don’t just teach X’s and O’s but also serve as mentors and father figures.
“It’s kind of weird, but I’m building bonds with police,” said one of the young players on the North team.
The team is a bright spot in a community that faces many challenges. The coaches understand those challenges.
“Before you judge anything about me, get to know me,” says Ricky Plunkett, a North assistant coach and a Minneapolis police officer.
Berg wanted to follow the team and coaches after the killing of George Floyd and tell their story. Those plans changed when Deshaun Hill, North’s sophomore starting quarterback, an honor roll student, and one of the main stars in the series, was killed in February 2022 in a senseless shooting while walking on a sidewalk by Golden Valley Road. Hill was 15. His assailant, caught on surveillance video, allegedly was a 29-year-old man named Cody Fohrenkam, who claimed he was looking for someone who had stolen his cellphone.
“To see this young man brutally murdered, for absolutely no reason, was like getting hit by a freight train, and that became the dominant experience of the series,” Berg said in an interview with Kare 11. “It’s really unprecedented. You know I’ve been making films for a long time, and I’ve never experienced anything like this. This was the most emotional and profound experience of my career. Early on in the season, we were at the Hill house with Tuesday, his mother, and Deshaun, Sr., his dad, and straight up unprompted, Tuesday was talking about her greatest fear – is that her son Deshaun was gonna get killed. Leaving school, walking to the bus, and he smiled and laughed and said, ‘You worry too much mom,’ and that’s exactly what happened.”
Despite the “absolute horror” of Deshaun Hill’s death, Berg finished the film and showed the final product to the Hill family. The director said the series was not making a statement on anything, but perhaps it could “capture this beautiful young man and save his memory” and help the audience reflect.
“Maybe have an opportunity to increase their empathy and their thought process on everything from poverty, to football, to policing, to gun violence, to family.”
The trial for the man accused of killing Deshaun Hill is expected to start on Jan. 23. Court records show Fohrenkam has a lengthy rap sheet, with 10 separate incidents on file from 2010 to 2018, including convictions for assault, robbery, illegal possession of a firearm and arson.
Philosophers have debated whether humans are good or bad for thousands of years. The consensus is that humans are naturally good and get corrupted by society. Science confirms as much. A few years ago, a study at Yale University with babies found that even the youngest humans have a sense of right and wrong and an instinct to prefer good over evil.
The most enlightened among us understand the potential greatness of all humans. Everyone is better than the worst thing they’ve ever done and greater than the worst mistake they’ve ever made. Still, it’s not always easy to forgive or see the worth of all people.
But healing begins with forgiveness. It also requires hope, then action to make things better. As Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer writes in “Hope,” the first poem in a book called “How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope”:
Hope has holes
in its pockets.
It leaves little
crumb trails
so that we,
when anxious,
can follow it.
Hope’s secret:
it doesn’t know
the destination –
it only knows
that all roads
begin with one
foot in front
of the other.

We have work to do.
You can watch “Boys in Blue” on Showtime, and the first episode is available for free on YouTube.


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