A Terrorist Threat or A Cry for Help, a film that's part of a Pulitzer Center-supported project and was released by the Dallas Morning News, won Best Short Documentary and Best Student Female Director in the Independent Shorts Awards on February 22, 2023.
Derêka Kay Bennett directed the five-minute film, which follows a rapid police escalation after former Arizona State University (ASU) football player Robbie Robinson, who is Black, tweeted about “tyrannical” playing conditions under a new coach. The film is part of Arijit Douglas Sen’s Center-supported project, Peering Into the Black Box.
“Get popcorn. Watch the show. I don’t care about jail or death. Take me there. [...] I want FREEDOM. For me & my people,” Robinson tweeted.
Soon after his tweets went live, they were flagged as dangerous by Social Sentinel, an artificial intelligence software company contracted by ASU.
ASU called the police, and the police called a SWAT team.
The Dallas Morning News reported: Robinson said “he was trying to express his past experience with mental health and suicidal thoughts and that police had misunderstood his tweets, in part because he is Black. According to documents, he was later diagnosed with a bipolar type schizoaffective disorder.”
Robinson stood trial and served nearly seven months in jail. You can watch the documentary by clicking here.
In a groundbreaking investigation for The Dallas Morning News, Sen and University of California, Berkeley Investigative Reporting Program journalist Derêka Bennett discovered that campus police across the U.S. used Social Sentinel, now known as Navigate360, to track several campus protests. At least 37 colleges and universities across the United States were found to have used the tool since 2015. At least 11 universities and student newsrooms used public documents and the reporting of the investigation to begin inquiries into their schools’ use of Social Sentinel. At least one university dropped its contract with the company.
The Independent Shorts Awards recognizes independent projects from all genres. It “is an international film festival, with special red carpet live screenings and Q&A sessions all year round and an annual awards event in Los Angeles,” according to the awards’ website.
The film was also nominated at the Indie Short Fest in Los Angeles.