Most of 9/11 memorials this week will mark the tragedy and sense of national unity and resolve emerging from the chaos. But there are other stories to be told on this 10th anniversary, including that of David McKay and Bradley Crowder, two young men who went to protest at 2008’s Republican National Convention, and found themselves arrested as terrorists, according to the United States’ altered legal and moral landscapes following 9/11. Premiering 6 September as part of POV series and available online from7 September through 6 October, Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway’s remarkable documentary, Better This World, traces how these friends from Midland, Texas ended up in federal prison. More provocatively, it makes a frightening case that’s less about the laws Crowley and McKay might have broken than the infractions and betrayals by the government they sought to protest. Hailing from a politically conservative small town, McKay and Crowley were new to protesting when they first met the man they came to see as a mentor, Brandon Darby, a cofounder of Common Ground, an organization dedicated initially to helping Katrina survivors. The film investigates his background, and also interviews Crowder and McKay’s families and girlfriends, who express predictable upset and shock at what’s happening: David’s father, Michel, sums up: I don’t know if the FBI and Homeland Security since 9/11, they all went berserk and crazy, but everything about this case stinks.” Their outrage only expands when they must confront the government’s cases against McKay and Crowley, the efforts to turn their testimonies against each other, the manipulations of sentences and possible plea deals in order to make sure that the government’s own work is justified. “All the dreams I have, I’m in prison,” says McKay. “Your subconscious takes on your reality.” That idea of prison—so expansive and so daunting—shapes his understanding of the system, or more precisely, what he calls “the injustice of the justice system.”
See PopMatters’ review.