Down a Dark Stairwell (2020)

  • Documentary
  • 1h 23m

When a Chinese-American police officer kills an innocent, unarmed black man in an unlit stairwell of a New York City housing project on November 20, 2014, communities across the city erupt with demands for legal accountability. When he becomes the first New York Police Department officer convicted of an on-duty shooting in over a decade, the fight for justice becomes much more complicated. One of the largest Asian-American protests in history challenges an uneven legal system, while the African-American community is forced to defend its rights again after a series of police killings. Cries for justice amid systemic inequities finds disparate notions of fairness called into question.

Down a Dark Stairwell tells a crucial American story of how divisions among racial minorities ultimately serve white supremacy.” - John Raphling, Senior Researcher, US Criminal Justice, Human Rights Watch

Thank you to everyone who joined our digital film festival screening + live Q&A on June 17. You can still watch the film at your own pace until June 20, and view the recording of the Q&A with the filmmaker Ursula Liang, Brandon D. Anderson, founder & Executive Director of RAHEEM, the independent service for reporting police in the US, Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition & HRW’s US Program Advocacy Officer Dreisen Heath. Moderated by Gerry Johnson, Editor & Senior strategist, Human Rights Watch here on our Facebook page.

We do not want the cost of entry to these films to be a barrier for participation in these events. If the price of buying a ticket to this film would prevent you from participating, please email the following address ( + we will send you a free ticket code. We have set aside a set # of tickets per film on a first come first-served basis. Once the free tickets are no longer available, the code will no longer work. For anyone that purchases a ticket, we appreciate your support. Your ticket purchase enables us to make tickets free for those who might otherwise be unable to watch. This also allows the festival to support the filmmakers for sharing their work in our festival and for the festival to cover the cost of hosting the films online.


Ursula Liang


Rajal Pitroda

Consulting Producer

Chanelle Aponte Pearson

Executive Producer

Sally Jo Fifer

Executive Producer

Lois Vossen

Supervising Producer

Shana Swanson


English, Cantonese, Mandarin

Bonus Content

65 mins
Live Q&A for Down a Dark Stairwell

This live Q&A ran on Wednesday June 17 with filmmaker Ursula Liang, Driesen Heath, HRW’s US Program Advocacy Officer, Steven Choi, Executive Director of the New York Immigration Coalition, Brandon D. Anderson, founder & Executive Director of RAHEEM - the independent service for reporting police in the US, and Gerry Johnson, Editor & Senior strategist at HRW.

4 mins
How Abusive, Biased Policing Destroys Lives

Abusive policing in Tulsa, Oklahoma that targets black people and poor people, diminishes the quality of life in all communities. Human Rights Watch released this video on the eve of the third anniversary of the killing of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man. That killing led Human Rights Watch to investigate everyday police interactions in Tulsa as a window into the larger human rights problems with policing throughout the United States.

Read the full report here, and download Down A Dark Stairwell to access this video content.

4 mins
US Elections 2020 – Racial Justice

From rethinking the role and presence of law enforcement in our communities to adequately addressing the legacy of slavery and racial discrimination through repair, reconciliation, and reinvestment, candidates in the 2020 US Elections should look to prioritize racial justice issues in public forums as well as their policy platforms.

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