Ira Mckinley: Ex-felon turned filmmaker

BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — As part of its 2015 Heritage Lecture Series, Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church presented a screening of the documentary “The Throwaways,” a film by Bhawin Suchak & Ira Mckinley at the Poynter Institute Tues., Jan. 13. Pastor Clarence Williams of Mt. Zion presented the event as Mckinley fielded questions from the audience directly after the screening.

Mckinley, a formerly incarcerated activist and homeless man turned filmmaker, took to the streets in the 62-minute film to interview common people most affected by issues such as economic cuts, police violence and racial profiling.

“The Throwaways” is gritty, gripping and above all, real. It is Mckinley’s effort to explore not only racial profiling in communities like Albany, N.Y. but a wakeup call of sorts for members of various communities that have fallen into dilapidation, disintegration and despair. Mckinley is often at the center of the film, either interviewing angry and frustrated people directly on the streets, answering questions himself or filming social unrest and demonstrations.

“I want to show the people that are being affected the most by these economic crises, these budget cuts, that you can stand up and that you can demand certain things,” Mckinley says in the film.

Mckinley is certainly intimate with his subject matter, having lived through personal and social upheaval for most of his life. When he was 14, his father was shot and killed by a police officer, and he himself has been beaten by law enforcement officials more than once.

“So I know these things happen,” he says in the film, “to those of us of color.”

Warned by some that he would be the target of retribution if he made such an expose documentary, Mckinley reasoned in the film that a man in his position—homeless, jobless, cold and hungry—truly had nothing to lose by speaking out.

Michelle Alexander, author of “The New Jim Crow,” states in the documentary: “That’s ultimately what ‘The Throwaways’ is all about—groups of people who are defined as different enough that you don’t have to care and can be just thrown away.”

Tempers flare as entire communities see the fatal shootings of young black men by police officers—namely Shawn Greenwood of Ithaca, N.Y., and Nahcream Moore of Albany, N.Y., — and Mckinley is there to capture it. In what may be the film’s most arresting segment, the mayor of Albany must deliver the official news during a press conference that Moore, who had been pulled over during a routine traffic stop, was shot and killed by two officers following a brief struggle.

Reporters initially ask routine questions while the victim’s stunned friends and family listen, but in time victim’s loved ones can no longer hold their tongues and vociferously demand real answers as to why Moore had to die. Finger pointing, in fighting, screaming and crying ensue as the conference transforms from an official conference to an emotional plea for answers and a powerful insistence for justice.

“They’re killing our kids!” yells one woman in a moment that perfectly encapsulates the disbelief and despondency, as the mayor stands helplessly by, trying to maintain order.

After the screening Mckinley addressed the viewers at the Poynter Institute: “It’s a pleasure coming back home,” he said, adding that his family is from Florida and it’s been about 30 years since he’s been in the Sunshine State.

“Sometimes I wished I was homeless in Florida,” he later quipped. “Try being homeless in New York during the winter!”

And was the itinerant man who was for a time reduced to living in tents in the frigid cold of Albany the same man now, a filmmaker and documentarian?

“The guy who was in the tent is the exact same guy who is sitting here in St. Petersburg,” Mckinley assured the audience.

He went on to urge people to stand up for something and noted that he had an epiphany of sorts while seeking shelter from the Albany winter at the local library. He’d looked around him in the library and noticed all the other homeless people reading and using the computers.

“Whoa, this is a world of knowledge here!” he had said to himself.

From there he just put it together, he said, and saw a way to tell his story but still needed to find the means. After doing a stint in prison, he found his way to Massachusetts and was allowed to use the resources at Northampton Community TV there, where Mckinley learned the foundations of filming and editing, which helped make the project possible.

Passionate in what he believes, Mckinley chastised the misguided ways that funds are spent on seemingly pointless studies on the homeless, when we already know that there are homeless people. He suggested that the money go toward a tangible, concrete way to fix the problem instead, like providing a home.

“What we did in the Occupy Movement,” he said, “we took over a house that was foreclosed and we put people in there. Free rent, everything. And the powers that be shut it down within three months but they lasted the winter. If I can get a victory over the powers that be for three or four months, I’ve got a victory!”

A Social Change In Mind production, “The Throwaways” shows a side of our communities—of our country, for that matter—that many of us would rather not face. It has been selected for a number of prestigious festivals and has even garnered awards, including Best Documentary, Long Beach Indie Festival and New York Hi-Light Award, Harlem International Film Festival (both 2014).

This is the second of three articles in the Heritage Lecture Series made possible by Pastor Clarence A. Williams of Greater Mt. Zion AME Church along with St. Petersburg College.

To reach Frank Drouzas, email fdrouzas@theweeklychallenger.com

One Reply to “Ira Mckinley: Ex-felon turned filmmaker”

  1. Mark Rosenkranz says:

    I want to expand the book, “White Male Privilege.” I am looking for a co-author. You can hear a sample of the book on audible.com

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