Video by Jackson Tisi
In November 2012, Leon Ford was pulled over by two Pittsburgh police officers. It was a routine traffic stop—at least, it was supposed to be, until one of the officers, who is white, mistook Ford, who is black, for a wanted gang member. Ford was able to confirm his identity with a license, insurance, and registration papers. Nonetheless, one of the officers jumped into Ford’s car and attempted to forcibly remove him from it. Ford was unarmed and terrified. He resisted. One of the officers shot him five times.
The encounter, which ended when Ford’s car crashed into a fence, was caught on a dashboard camera. Ford survived, but was left permanently paralyzed from the waist down.
“Those officers took something from me,” Ford says in Jackson Tisi’s short documentary Leon. “It’s not just the ability to walk—it’s something deeper.”
The film depicts Ford’s mental-health journey in the aftermath of the shooting. “It destroyed me from the inside out,” he tells a therapist in one wrenching scene.
Originally, Tisi planned to release Leon timed to Mental Health Awareness Month this May. But the news surrounding the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery has lent Ford’s story a renewed, and tragic, resonance. “We had no anticipation that the racially motivated violence that Leon survived would be so relevant right at this moment,” Tisi told me.
When Ford himself found out about Arbery, he told me that he felt numb. “Unfortunately, it is not surprising to see a black body murdered on camera,” he said. “It’s sad to say that I live in a country where I expect to die. America makes me feel as though my blackness is a sin—and justice is reserved for white Americans.”
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