‘When Claude Got Shot’ Documentary Shows The Ripple Effects of Gun Violence In Milwaukee
During the first three months of 2021, 232 people have been shot in the city of Milwaukee according to the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission. If you look back over the last decade, this is the highest number in the first three months of a year that Milwaukee has seen. While deaths from gun violence are down about 25%, nonfatal shooting victims have risen almost 58% when compared to 2020.
While visiting town for a high school reunion, Claude Motley was shot in the face during an attempted carjacking. Victoria Davison, a nurse with a concealed carry permit, shot a person trying to rob her two nights later. Nathan King is the assailant in both cases and was 15 years old at the time.
After surviving the incident, Motley turned to long time friend and filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein to use his experience to tell the story about gun violence in Milwaukee. The film follows the five years of his life after the shooting as Motley tries to recover mentally and physically, while also staying involved in the criminal justice journey of his shooter.
“I would have the opportunity to bring the story out. Why did I survive? Why did it happen to me? Things like that. So I took that as a sign, as in, 'Hey listen, let’s go ahead and shine some light on the things that happened in Milwaukee for years, and years, and years, and you know.' Brad gave me that vehicle, and I had a lot of trust in him to put the story together,” says Motley.
The film doesn’t just include Motley’s story — Lichtenstein brings in both Nathan King, his mother Regina Ragland, and Victoria Davidson to show the complexities related to gun violence.
“Pretty early on, I knew that I wanted to tell a kind of 360-degree story around gun violence,” Lichtenstein says. “It felt like there was a way to really dig deep into gun violence with deeply personal stories and to help the audience see how many ripple effects there are from, in this case, just a weekend of gun violence.”
Motley says he doesn’t view himself as victim, but instead a survivor. He says growing up Black in Milwaukee, he constantly had to be a survivor — especially when it came to the systematic oppression he faced while living in one of the most segregated cities in America.
"Milwaukee made me who I was and I would not be able to do that if I didn't have that training and thought process to always stay positive, regardless of the things that are trying to be thrown in front of you," he says.
Motley says he didn’t want to see his shooter, Nathan King, locked away in jail for the rest of his life. He wasn’t looking for revenge — he wanted justice.
“When we send these people to jail, we have to live a fine line between punishment and revenge,” Motley says. “I’m not trying to throw away the key on a person.”
Despite Motley's calls for leniency, the judge overseeing King's case dismissed them, citing his own different concerns.
“I think that’s one of the deep tragedies of the film — beyond the bullets — is that the system is so entrenched that there’s a level of indifference,” says Lichtenstein. “The facts on the ground are that we have three people, all of whom are trying to wrestle with these difficult questions with how to respond to each other and treat each other and have relationships in the midst of all this, and that turns out to be way more human than the system that it’s all taking place in.”
Lichtenstein and Motley hope the film opens up new discussions, but they are also pairing it with an impact campaign with the League to support violence prevention strategies and advocate for youth development resources.
"Everybody should have a whole menu of options when they're young, not just the privileged," says Lichtenstein. "And those are the kinds of things that create young men who are going to pursue other things, not picking up guns."
The When Claude Got Shot is available to stream through the Milwaukee Film Festival from May 6 to May 20.