2014, Movies

Whitey: United States of America vs James J Bulger (2014, Joe Berlinger)

Somebody once said, it’s not integrity that matters, it’s the perception of integrity. One of the reasons people freak out at the more minor of political scandals – the ones where there are only hints of impropriety, or where bureaucrats or politicians are accused of over-spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars when the budget is in the billions or higher – is that the assumption of integrity, the appearance of integrity is violated. We are supposed to be able to trust our government and the perception of corruption is, in some ways just as bad as corruption itself. This films deals with a notorious criminal organization in Boston and its relationship with elements of the federal and municipal governments. From watching it, it’s hard to believe that the perception of integrity will ever exist again for some people who live in Boston.

I had no familiarity with this case, beyond knowing that it was used as one of the two inspirations for The Departed. I think it’s very clear to anyone that the Winter Hill Gang were awful and should be punished for what they did to South Boston for decades. What is less clear is how much of this reign of terror FBI and Boston PD complicity actively permitted or even encouraged.

This film does not pretend to have the answers. Rather, it asks serious questions about how seriously we should take the prosecution of a gangster by the very government agencies that tolerated that gangster, profited from that gangster and used that gangster. If I were from Boston, I do not know how I would be able to cope with this knowledge.

There have been a lot of true crime exposes showing the problems inherent in the US justice system, revealing how police and attorneys select suspects based on whims, biases and vendettas, rather than on the evidence. But this is something different and much worse. And the thing that makes it even harder to take is the unwillingness of those currently in positions of power to fix things, to bring back the perception of integrity that is so sorely lacking from the Boston PD and Boston office of the FBI, and from the US Attorney’s office.

Just an awful, awful story.


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