In 1992, William Ford Jr., a 24-year-old high school math teacher in Long Island, was fatally shot during an altercation at an autoshop. There was no mystery as to who was responsible – Mark Reilly, a 19-year-old mechanic, was arrested for manslaughter. But Reilly, who is white, claimed he shot Ford, who was Black, in self-defense – and an all-white grand jury declined to indict him for the killing. The new Netflix documentary, Strong Island, directed by Ford's brother Yance, looks at the impact the murder had on the Ford family, and makes the case that racial bias was a deciding factor in his killer getting off scot free.
Ten years in the making, the themes explored in Strong Island are as relevant today as they were back in 1992. By all accounts, Ford was a model citizen who, nine months before his death, stopped an armed robber – and was in court the day he was killed, testifying for the prosecution. And yet the grand jury treated Reilly's claim that he was in fear for his life as if it was a fact that overwhelmed all the other evidence. Sound familiar?