Heather Brooks and her son, 16-year-old Kahlil Brown, attended the Lucy Laney screening of Boys in Blue. Kahlil was best friends with Deshaun Hill, Jr., whose football prowess and tragic killing last year are featured in the documentary. Brooks said the two had watched the first episode together, "crying and crying and crying." Credit: Becky Z. Dernbach | Sahan Journal

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The new Showtime docuseries Boys in Blue bills itself as a study of a north Minneapolis football team coached by police officers in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd.

But for the 50 people gathered in the music room at Lucy Laney Community School on Friday night, the documentary represented something else: a chance to see their fallen son, friend, and star quarterback, Deshaun Hill, Jr., one more time. 

Deshaun, who was often called D. Hill, was 15 when he was shot and killed blocks from North Community High School in February 2022. Cody Fohrenkam, the man charged with second-degree murder in Hill’s death, is currently awaiting trial. The Minneapolis school board is expected to vote on a $500,000 settlement with D. Hill’s family next week.

The high school’s starting quarterback was revered by his classmates and younger students, and his death stunned the community. He’d attended Lucy Laney for elementary school. School staff organized the screening for his family and people who had known him for years.

By the time D. Hill was killed, most of the four-part documentary had already been filmed. But it took on added poignancy after his death. The first episode premiered on Showtime to a national audience Friday night.

Tuesday Sheppard, D. Hill’s mother, described a mixture of emotions at the Lucy Laney screening: anxiety, sorrow, pride. She was glad Showtime could introduce her son to the world, she said.

“A lot of kids said, instead of being LeBron James, they wanted to be D. Hill,” she said. “It makes me feel like I didn’t fail him, and I did what I was supposed to do as a mother. I raised him right. It’s just unfortunate that it happened.”

Kahlil Brown, 16, was D. Hill’s lifelong best friend. He had already watched the documentary with his football team when he came to the screening Friday night. Reliving that year by watching the documentary, he said, “was a lot.” It was difficult to pick a favorite part, but he liked “seeing D. Hill smile.”

A photo backdrop with a cardboard cutout of D. Hill and balloons in the shape of the number 9, his jersey number, adorned the hallway outside the screening. Morgan McDonald, a student support specialist and boxing coach at Lucy Laney, carried sofas to the front of the music room for D. Hill’s family members; next door in the science room, he arranged snacks for kids. Many people who trickled in wore hoodies, T-shirts, or buttons paying tribute to D. Hill. One young woman wore his letter jacket. Kids curled up on bean bags.

Lucy Laney staff had set up a photo backdrop to honor D. Hill. Credit: Becky Z. Dernbach | Sahan Journal

The lights went out, and the first episode began. Three minutes in, the film introduces D. Hill’s parents: Sheppard and Deshaun Hill, Sr., teasing him about a girl he’s interested in.

“She on the A honor roll?” Hill Sr. asks. “You need to ask her.”

“Exactly,” Sheppard agrees.

The videographer asks D. Hill’s parents if they want their quarterback son to make it out of north Minneapolis.

“Most definitely,” they agree.

“He in a straight line to do that,” Hill, Sr. says. “All we got to do is keep him out of trouble. That’s hard, too, though.”

“The hardest part for me is going to, like, the bus stop, catching the bus for school, going to the corner store,” Sheppard says, “because I don’t know if it’s going to be the last time I see him, because it’s that bad around here.” She prefers to drive her son and his friends around, she explains. “Because I don’t want them to be caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s my biggest fear.”

Her prescient fears echoed through the music room. D. Hill was killed walking to the bus stop, near a local corner store.

‘It’s hard for me to watch it’

After the first episode, audience members took a break for snacks and pizza. 

“What do you think?” I asked McDonald.

“It’s hard for me to watch it,” he said, especially hearing D. Hill’s voice and Sheppard’s well-placed fears.

McDonald introduced me to Deshaun Hill, Sr., who told me he’d already watched the documentary over and over again. Watching the film was sad and bittersweet, Hill said.

“It makes me happy that everybody in the world can get to know the type of person my son was, and all the things he was going to be able to do,” he said. 

Hill recalled how his son used to give advice to adults. “He was basically the perfect kid,” he said.

He hoped people could learn from his son’s motto: “Stay focused and just win.” And he hoped that the kids who looked up to him would follow his example.

The second and third episodes focus on the city’s politics, as voters consider a ballot measure to restructure Minneapolis’ public safety system and coaches mull what that could mean for their jobs. The focus on politics and policing at times felt clunky and heavy-handed. When one person spoke about the dangers of north Minneapolis, the documentary illustrated their fears with an exterior shot of a burned-down building on Lake Street—in south Minneapolis. A principal’s thoughts on the movement to defund the police became a voiceover to football practice. 

For the viewers at Lucy Laney, these political themes were beside the point. Some left during those scenes to get snacks.

Fifty viewers gathered in the Lucy Laney music room on Friday night to watch the four-part Showtime docuseries. Credit: Becky Z. Dernbach | Sahan Journal

But they became fully engaged when D. Hill tells the cameras about his time in elementary school.

“When I was in kindergarten, I tripped a teacher,” he says. “She broke her knee.”

The audience, many of whom had known him at the time, laughed heartily.

She tripped over me,” he explains in self-defense. The crowd laughed again.

McDonald told me that D. Hill’s kindergarten teacher had decided not to attend that evening.

“She couldn’t stomach it,” he said.

After the third episode, which focused largely on the ballot measure to restructure the police department, the screening took another break. Some people started to leave. It was getting late. Perhaps they hadn’t been interested in the focus on politics. And perhaps they knew what was coming. Only one episode remained, and they knew it would contain D. Hill’s death.

Heather Brooks, Kahlil’s mother, said she and her son had watched the first episode together earlier that week. “We just kept crying and crying and crying,” she said. “It’s like doing the death all over again.”

Watching it in a community setting helped, she said.

Sheppard, though, had already watched the documentary once and found she could not bear to watch it again. She spent much of the screening outside of the viewing room. 

McDonald asked Sheppard when he should start the next episode.

Sheppard didn’t intend to watch it. “Don’t wait for me,” she told him.

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...