Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture Copyright © 1994 Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture
All rights reserved.
ISSN 1070-8286

Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 2(1) (1994) 5-7

Adam Abdul Hakeem: One Who Survived

Producer: Thalia Drori
Release Information: Filmakers Library, (1992) VHS 40 min.

This documentary dramatizes the story of Adam Abdul Hakeem (formally Larry Davis) and examines corruption within the New York City Police Department and the Department of Corrections. According to the documentary, Adam Hakeem was a fourteen year old African-American youth when he was recruited into a drug selling ring by detectives from the South Bronx 44th precinct (sometimes colloquially referred to as "Fort Apache"). When Hakeem decided to get out at the age of nineteen and inform the F.B.I., he went into hiding-- fearing reprisals--which initiated an intensive police search to find him. Thus began his long odyssey through police, court and correctional systems which resulted in a bloody gun battle, successive prison terms, and paralysis from the waist down (supposedly the result of recurrent beatings at the hands of correctional officers and other inmates).

The story of Adam Abdul Hakeem is divided into distinct parts which describe various aspects of this bizarre and interesting case. Subtopics include such areas as The Raid, The Manhunt, The Surrender, Trial, Verdict, Sentencing, and the like. The use of subtopics is a very good organizational format that provides the viewer an excellent grasp of the issues. Students should be able to identify the important points related to criminal justice and utilize them as a basis for discussion. For the instructor, the video parallels many of the topics found in traditional introductory criminal justice courses. It begins with a violent encounter between detectives of the 44th precinct and Larry Davis (as he was known at the time).

After Larry Davis went into hiding, an all points bulletin was issued for his arrest for the alleged slaying of four drug dealers. In November 1986, approximately 20 to 30 detectives converged on Davis' sister's apartment in order to arrest him (or, as some allege, to assassinate him). According to one of Davis' defense attorneys, the officers had no warrant, no probable cause, and were not acting in an official capacity. In a police debriefing tape obtained under court order, a sergeant acknowledged that there was no warrant, but they were going to try to "bullshit" their way in. The sergeant also acknowledged that when the door opened, a detective ran into the apartment then they all had to go in. According to [End page 5] testimony, the police opened fire and Davis returned fire, wounding a number of officers while managing to escape through an adjacent open window. Of interest here are a number of procedural issues ranging from the policy (or lack thereof) for apprehending fugitives to conducting warrantless arrests. What seems clear, based upon the debriefing tape and interviews with defense attorneys, is that the police had no basis for entering the apartment to make an arrest without a warrant.

Subsequent to his arrest (Davis surrendered to the F.B.I. with full media coverage), he was tried for the alleged murder of a drug dealer and the wounding of six police officers during the raid on his sister's apartment. The jury acquitted Davis on both charges but found him guilty of illegal possession of weapons. The jury accepted Davis' argument of self defense--that Davis justifiably believed that he was defending his life the night of the raid. According to one of his defense attorneys (William Kunstler), this was the first instance in which a defendant was acquitted in a shoot out with the police on the basis of self defense. Although Davis had no prior record, he was sentenced from five to fifteen years for the possession of weapons that the police allegedly provided him when he was dealing drugs under their supervision. The result was a massive police protest of the lenient sentenced imposed by the court.

The documentary discusses the "blue line" which, in this case, alleges that members of the police department did not inform on other officers even when crimes were being committed and that they conspired to cover up such activity. Defense attorneys allege that the police suppressed evidence, coerced witnesses, provided perjured testimony, and did all in their power to silence Larry Davis and to prevent testimony as to corrupt police activity. They argue that the "blue line" also extended to correctional officers who, according to testimony, witnessed and participated in assaults that resulted in serious injury (a broken spine in one instance) to Larry Brown. Videotape from Rikers Island Correctional facility, that was obtained by court order, documents the use of severe force in removing Davis from the general population to solitary confinement.

During the course of his confinement, Larry Davis converted to Islam and assumed the name of Adam Abdul Hakeem. In 1990 Hakeem was tried and acquitted of two murders and in 1991 was tried again, found guilty, and sentenced to twenty five years. At the time that the video [End page 6] was produced, other charges were pending against Hakeem, and his fate remained uncertain. What is certain, however, is that Hakeem will be doing a lot of prison time. Whether it is deserved or undeserved is a question that will linger. Clearly, from the point of view of the documentary, Adam Abdul Hakeem is the victim of a massive conspiracy and cover up by officers within the New York City Police Department and Department of Corrections. From this viewpoint his only real crime was trying to expose corrupt police activity within South Bronx. Adam Abdul Hakeem is portrayed as a young man with the fortitude to stand up to the system and the inner strength to "tough it out." Clearly, he is one who survived.

I would give this video an overall rating of three (good) on a four point scale. It does make a compelling argument regarding injustices within the criminal justice system. On the other hand, it presents only one side of the story--that supporting the case of Adam Abdul Hakeem. Whether this was intentional or due to the lack of cooperation by the state (prosecutors, police, etc.), I don't know. However, corruption within the New York City Police Department is not an unknown quantity. There have been many well documented and well publicized cases, especially pertaining to illegal drug trafficking by the police. It is also a fact that Hakeem was successful in raising a self defense argument in a shootout with police during the raid, which in my opinion places the onus on the police. Further, while it is clear that he walked into prison, it is also clear that he didn't walk out, having been confined to a wheelchair.

The case is reminiscent of Rueben "the Hurricane" Carter, a former heavyweight boxer allegedly falsely accused of homicide and imprisoned for many years. The story was popularized in a song of the same name written and sung by Bob Dylan. It chronicles an example of police corruption, cover ups, and justice denied to another African- American. Adam Abdul Hakeem: One Who Survived is definitely grist for the academic world of criminal justice. It raises pertinent and relevant issues that should be of concern to criminal justice/criminology students. It would be appropriate for a number of courses such as those dealing with policing and violence and especially introduction to criminal justice. The video is well done, well organized, and definitely will maintain student interest. I highly recommend it.

Carl E. Pope
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Department of Criminal Justice[End page 7]