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"White Boy" Review

In the annals of famous criminals, one that people outside of the Detroit area have likely heard of is White Boy Rick, the street nickname of Richard Wershe Jr. who was infamous for being a teenage drug dealer AND FBI informant who ended up sentenced to life in prison without parole for cocaine trafficking despite his youth (17 years old) and being a non-violent offender. He eventually became the longest-serving non-violent juvenile offender in history. 

Name-checked by Kid Rock, the subject of a mediocre 2018 biopic starring Matthew McConaughey as his father, even the stage name of a local rapper I knew who went by "White Boy Ric", White Boy Rick attained a level of cultural fame usually reserved for Mafiosos. But lesser known are the details of how he became this legend and the complete screw job he received at the hands of a corrupt JUST US system which was protecting the deeply corrupt power structure of Detroit, all of which is laid out in jaw-dropping detail in the documentary White Boy.

Packed with interviews with lawyers, FBI agents, police officers, reporters (including Chris Hansen, who started in Detroit before going national and busting pedophile predators), lawyers, family, Curry and hit man Nathaniel Kraft (who confessed to 30 murders), and Wershe by telephone and archive footage, White Boy paints a stunning picture of how the FBI recruited the 14-year-old Wershe to infiltrate and inform the drug trade of Detroit's East Side.

I've been a metro Detroit resident almost my whole life and in the 1980s the various drug gangs running in Detroit like Young Boys Inc. and Best Friends filled the newspapers and newscasts. Naturally, White Boy Rick, the white teenager who was rolling deep with an almost exclusively black-controlled drug trade, was a standout simply because of his novelty, and the local media, not he or his street pals, gave him the nickname. (He was like the Eminem of drug dealing.) But even I was blown away by the depths of corruption that enabled this deadly trade which further destroyed a city already mortally wounded by the 1967 Riots and 20 years of Coleman Young, the extremely dirty Mayor of Detroit. 

How dirty was Young? His niece was married to Johnny Curry, head of the Curry Brothers drug gang, and as such the gang operated with near impunity from law enforcement as they were protected by the boss's uncle and his crooked cop minions. (One Detroit Free Press reporter featured laughably asserts that he didn't think Young was crooked, but perhaps some around him were. I immediately started ignoring whatever he said afterwards.) 

Even more shocking are the revelations that the head of the Detroit Police Department's Homicide department, Gil Hill - famous for playing Eddie Murphy's angry Captain in the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, subsequently riding that fame to become President of the Detroit City Council - was corrupt to the point of ordering hits on certain people, including White Boy Rick.

After assisting in at least 20 successful prosecutions, he was cut loose by the FBI at age 16. Continuing in the drug game, a year later, after a very suspicious bust and having his legal counsel which was connected to Young tank his defense, he was sentenced to life without parole in 1987. When the state's mandatory life for 650 grams of narcotics law was ruled unconstitutional in 1998 and modified to allow parole, Wershe was still denied parole in the one hearing he was allowed in 2003. 

For some reason, certain factions were extremely opposed to Wershe every being released. Despite being a model prisoner and most of those involved with his judgement not objecting to his parole, the Wayne County Prosecutors Office blistered him as a menace to society who would cause great harm if released. In 2003, the County Prosecuter was Mike Duggan, who is now the Mayor of Detroit, and he didn't object to parole, but two weeks later, a second letter vehemently opposing release, as if Wershe were Scarface and Capone combined, came in with Duggan's signature, sinking his chances. However, Duggan claims he doesn't recall the second letter (despite his signature), though his top deputy was one of lawyers who railroaded him. Even as late as 2015, when Wershe was the longest-serving non-violent offender in history, an attempt to resentence him was crushed by current Prosecutor Kym Worthy. 

Throughout White Boy is an overwhelming sense of injustice perpetrated by the law enforcers who basically turned Wershe into a felon and then threw him in prison for life as his reward because he was too close to implicating dirty cops and politicians. While he escaped assassination, he was still left to rot long after murderers and actual drug kingpins like Johnny Curry had been released. In one final shocking twist, director Shawn Rech illustrates just how unjust Wershe's sentence is compared to another's through an extremely clever misdirection he used until then.

Another detail to Rech's credit is his identifying who the talking heads shown are every time they appear throughout the movie. So often documentary's fail to provide basic information like what year events occur or identify speakers once and then leave the viewer trying to remember who is who later. 

While Wershe was eventually paroled in 2017, he was promptly thrown into a Florida prison for another three years on a separate charge whose sentence was shockingly set to run consecutively, not concurrently. He ultimately regained his freedom in 2020 after spending 33 years incarcerated. (So much for white privilege.)

Score: 9/10. Catch it on cable. (Currently on Netflix.)


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