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MSNBC's Explosive Docu-Series Examines Teaneck After White Officer Killed Black Teen

Phillip Pannell
Phillip Pannell Photo Credit: Phillip Pannel Foundation

A Bergen County town is the focus of a four-part docu-series by MSNBC examining race.

"Model America" examines America's complicated relationship with race through the lens of people in Teaneck, a "racial utopia" turned unlikely ground zero for the modern Black Lives Matter movement.

Particularly, the series focuses on the township's climate after 16-year-old Phillip Pannell was shot and killed by officer Gary Spath in April 1990.

The series' co-director and executive producer Dani Goffstein is a Teaneck native, who felt the township felt "oddly segregated," despite being a diverse community.

"As a kid, I remember learning about Jim Crowe in history class and thinking that it didn’t sound all that different from what I experienced growing up," he said. "For example, Teaneck has two separate Little Leagues: White kids join the Teaneck Baseball Organization, and Black kids play in the Teaneck Southern Baseball League. 

"On Queen Anne Road, there are two barbershops next to each other: 'Chubby’s,”'where White people get haircuts, and 'The Chop Shop,' where Black people get haircuts."

It wasn't until he was 11 years old, walking home from synagogue when his father pointed out the home where Pannell was shot by Spath just two years before he was born, she said. He later went on to get haircuts at The Chop Shop instead of Chubby's, and made friends with Black children in her community — and got to know the people who loved Pannell before he died.

"Model America" airs Sunday, Sept. 18 at 10 p.m. on MSNBC

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