Baltimore is a wonderful city with a rich history, a thriving cultural scene, and a gorgeous Inner Harbor section. It also has one of the most notoriously corrupt police departments in the United States. Sonja Sohn spent years in Baltimore, playing Det. Shakima Greggs on The Wire. That makes her a good fit to direct The Slow Hustle, which premiered at the 2021 AFI DOCS festival. This deep dive into the city's police force is provocative and stunning.
At hand is the 2017 death of police officer Sean Suiter, who was shot in the head while on the job. At first, it was assumed that a drug addict killed him to avoid arrest. He was hailed as a hero who died in the line of duty. Then it got complicated. A theory was floated that he committed suicide and just made it look like a murder so his family would get his life insurance benefits. His widow vehemently denied that Suiter was in any way depressed.
There was another theory, too. The day after his death, he was scheduled to testify against some fellow cops who were running a crime racket and even covered up a fatal car accident by planting evidence at the scene. Could Suiter have been assassinated by a colleague to prevent him from telling what he knew? If so, who ordered it? Then there were allegations that Suiter himself was a dirty cop. Was he, or did someone in the Baltimore Police Department spread that rumor to destroy his credibility?
The point of The Slow Hustle is that such questions can't be answered because the BPD cannot be trusted. All of this unfurled during the aftermath of the Freddie Gray killing, so the cops had a lot of image protecting to do. There is consequently a vested interest in keeping the truth from the public. Even when an “independent” commission is brought in to review the case, the conclusions they reach are at direct odds with provable facts. Using news footage and interviews with reporters and people who knew Suiter, Sohn captures the Rashomon-like nature of the case in riveting style. The more questions arise in the case, the cloudier it becomes.
Around Suiter's story, the documentary tracks some of the corruption within the force, examining the culture that pressures good cops to dirty their hands. As one interview subject puts it, the more officers there are who have done something illegal, the less likely it is that anyone will rat on anyone else. That's a staggering thought. The Slow Hustle doesn't have the answers to Suiter's death, because frankly, we'll never get them. However, it absolutely possesses the hard-hitting message that if police departments continue to put their own self-protection first, no one is safe, not even the individual cops who comprise them.
This is about as essential a non-fiction film as you'll find right now.
The Slow Hustle is unrated, but contains adult language and some disturbing images. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.