EXCLUSIVE: Shortly after Jamal Trulove celebrated his breakout turn in The Last Black Man in San Francisco at the film’s Sundance premiere, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to approve a $13.1 million settlement for Trulove after it was found he had been framed by police for the 2007 murder of a friend, serving six years before a retrial exonerated him and found two police officers deliberately fabricated evidence and failed to disclose exculpatory material.
Trulove is using his freedom and resources to tell enlightening true stories, and he’s got two documentaries that he’s excited about. One is called Black and White: The Greatest Team That Almost Never Was, on which he is partnered with Eterne Films CEO Steve Riach. It tells the story about how racial integration created arguably the greatest team in the history of college football – the 1972 USC Trojans. The consensus National Champion was so dominant, colleges across the country — even in the Deep South — scrambled to integrate their own teams by recruiting black players. The film will be told by surviving players and coaches, opponents, and never before seen archival footage.
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Separately, Tru Narrativ — a partnership between Trulove and Sentwali Holder (Live) — are also working on a docu series with the working title Framing Trulove. It will chronicle his 10-year ordeal after being convicted of the 2007 murder of his friend Seu Kuka, who was shot in a public housing project in San Francisco. Sentenced to 50 years in prison, Trulove served six years in maximum security prisons until his wrongful conviction was overturned, leading to the landmark civil court judgment against the San Francisco Police Department.
We interviewed for this story prior to the murder of George Floyd, but I thought it would be tone deaf not to ask how the events of the past week has left him feeling, after he paid such a high price over what a San Francisco civil jury found was a grievous miscarriage of justice.
“With the death of George Floyd, deep rooted feelings resurface,” Trulove said. “I can address this on a deeply personal, immersive level. I have experienced real trauma from these systematic racial injustices, some of it exposed in public record, much of it not. And, even given this, from Ahmaud Arbery to George Floyd, I feel an even deeper hurt within my soul.
“I’ve physically been waking up crying and sick to my stomach,” he said. “When I look at what happened to me nearly a decade ago, being framed for murder by the San Francisco Police Department – which was proven to be false before a civil jury — I see a never-ending cycle of hate and oppression. Minnesota is another Ferguson. But what about the Black Wall Street that was burned to the ground in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921? When a black 19-year-old was accused of assaulting a white woman. Sound familiar? Seems eerily similar to Central Park ‘Karen’ — Amy Cooper — making a false statement about the Harvard educated brother, Christian Cooper. What’s my point? None of this is new. It’s sickening, disheartening and has to stop!
“How do I feel about the unrest and protests that have become violent? I don’t condone violence but when people hurt, when the system seems to justify heinous actions by police, District Attorneys, and Judges without those responsible for despicable behavior being accountable, then what’s left? People will react. Call it overreacting but this is what happens,” he said.
“What do I feel about all the officers involved in the murder of George Floyd? It seems the County District Attorney is looking for a reason to not charge anyone but from someone who was set up by the police, I say lock them up on the evidence we all can clearly see. It is unanimous with multiple videos on record that they should go to jail with potentially, harsh sentences. In the hood it’s called “football numbers”; your sentence is “x” amount of years because it resembles the numbers on a football jersey. We’re not talking about quarterbacks or kickers.
“The sad part is the oppression will not end with George Floyd’s murderers being, hopefully, brought to justice,” he said. “This ends with voting out the oppressors from the Oval Office to the D.A.’s office to the Judges’ chambers. This ends with really scrutinizing police officers at the Academy level. This ends with educating the children of the oppressors to love and respect human life no matter what they look like. This ends with educating and employing people of color on a national scale for those who lack those resources so we have hope in our communities. That will lower the crime rate as well as those select crooked cops in our neighborhoods. That is what we need. Real change. Not change that just sounds good on social media. Now the question is who will take those steps, preferably people who don’t look like me, to do what needs to be done.”
Despite Trulov’s strong reaction, his partner in the USC docu said Trulove brings a remarkable lack of bitterness to the football project, and how coach John McKay’s decision to change recruiting tactics altered major college football.
“What drew me to Jamal was a healthy perspective he’s got in wanting to use this to do something good rather than wallow in bitterness, though that would have been understandable,” Riach said.
Trulove appreciated the team emerging from the civil rights struggle of the ’60s and how USC’s moves that included starting Jimmy Jones, one of the first black quarterbacks in a major program, changed the game. To say Jones was great is an understatement. He was part of the first all black backfield in major college ball. In his senior year, he rushed for 2400 yards, and threw for 40 TDs, leaving USC to an undefeated record and a Rose Bowl win. He was the first African American quarterback on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The landscape for black quarterbacks in the NFL was as bad as in college and he took his talents to Canada where he led the Montreal Alouettes to a Grey Cup win in 1974. While at USC, he led the team to a pivotal moment that changed the color landscape of college football.
“They went down to Birmingham, Alabama in a game set up by John McKay and Bear Bryant, who knew that in order for the South to integrate in college football, something dramatic needed to happen,” Riach said. “They set up a game in 1970, when each had an open date on their schedule. USC’s integrated team demolished Alabama, and gave Bryant what he needed for change. They had no black players, and the majority of teams in what we know today as the Southeastern Conference were not integrated at all. Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide was the behemoth and he knew that in order for the South to be integrated, Birmingham had to see it. USC thrashed Alabama, with a team that was by then an equal mix of black and white players. Bryant used that as a way to start integrating his team.”
Jones was gone by the time the integration strategy produced an even stronger team in ’72, with a team that was of equal racial mix and included such standouts as Lynn Swann and Anthony Davis. “They went 12-0, dominated everybody,” Riach said. “They played the toughest schedule in the country in ’72. Beat six top 20 ranked teams, averaged 39 points a game on offense and gave up 11 points a game. They ended up sending 34 players off that roster to professional football, which was unheard of at the time.”
As for the docu-series of Trulov’s own story, it will tell how an aspiring artist was basically framed, something he believes happens more often than people realize. “The harsh reality growing up in the projects…you know, the police just don’t care, and I was somebody who just…you know, I wasn’t the guy that ran from the police. I wasn’t the guy out there selling drugs or anything like that, but I was around in my community, and the cops just didn’t like that,” he said. “I wasn’t the usual suspect, but I had a little popularity at that time because I was going onto a reality show. That could have been something. I don’t know, but ultimately, there’s no boundaries when it comes to the police inside of these communities on who they want to be in jail. If they want you to be in jail, they typically do whatever they have to to do so, and in my case, that’s exactly what they did,” he said.
“Even a year after the incident happened, I was living in New York City, they were trying to coerce somebody else to say that I did it, which, ultimately, landed them the warrant because they pressured this schizophrenic drug addict who got pulled over in her car with a gun in her lap, drugs in her pocket, 7-year-old in the back, with her husband facing a felony warrant. So she said anything they wanted to hear,” he said. “That got them an arrest warrant. And when broke down what she had said…ultimately, she never testified. She actually apologized through her attorney, and let us know that she told them that she lied, but then when you read the police report, the officer involved just said at the end of his findings, her testimony is extremely credible.”
I asked Trulove if he felt his incarceration came down to a simple black white thing.,
“I wouldn’t say necessarily that’s it’s a black and white thing, but more so because it’s black and brown. San Francisco did a have a rich history about a lot of Latinos and black people here during the big migration from the south, you know, in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, and the ‘70s, but when they made the transition to, you know, come to San Francisco and to the tourist city, you know, that’s what ultimately developed these projects. And they treated black people and brown people in these projects just like it was like we were meat, and that’s what I’ve seen growing up in the ‘80s. It’s a poor thing also, but typically, these things are happening to African Americans.”
Trulove said the best thing he did was refuse a hush hush settlement, instead opting for a trial that turned into a much larger settlement, and giving him the ability to discuss what was done to him.
“They were like, ‘here, take this $2 million and shut up, and if I’d have done that, I’d have fallen under that same umbrella as a lot of other people who come home after doing 18 years or 20 years who end up settling for two or three million dollars and still have the lawfully convicted label,” he said. “If those people had gone to trial, they maybe too could have proven they were framed. I knew I had to go all the way to trial in my civil case, willing to potentially lose. That’s why a lot of people take those deals, because they don’t want to lose the opportunities to get a few million dollars after doing all of that time. For me, it wasn’t about the money. It was about setting precedent. I mean, to have these officers collude and back each other up and come together when it comes down to their job is to get a conviction regardless…”
Trulove said he never lost faith, even when separated from his family and facing a 50-year sentence.
“I didn’t do it, and I told myself even though they sentenced me to 50 to life and wanted me to die in jail, I told myself that every year that I don’t go home, I’m going to go home the next,” he said. “So I looked at it like it was a year sentence every year. It’s ultimately what got me through the time, but I never lost faith, or the hope of coming home.”
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