Seven Seconds - BLSS Academic Blogs

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Grief is something we'll all experience at some point in life. In this week's blog, Lecturer Morag Kennedy asks the question 'Does Seven Seconds accurately depict the realities of family life after the death of a child?'. 

Crime dramas don’t get much more dramatic than Seven Seconds which incorporates police corruption, murder, substance misuse, hate crimes, and ‘frame-ups’. It raises interesting questions in terms of racism, intersectionality and social structure. Its hypnotic, slow-burning story-line outlines some of the struggles faced by a family losing a child in the worst circumstances.

Seven Seconds follows the story of Brenton Butler who was accidently run over by off-duty police officer Pete Jablonski who, in the wake of the accident, panics and calls for back up from fellow officers. After this, Brenton’s body is moved and the crime scene is covered up. Ironically, as Pete takes a life, he gains a life with the birth of his son, Michael. 

Clare-Hope Ashitey plays KJ Harper, an alcoholic with fraught family relations. As an assistant prosecutor with the State’s Attorney’s Office, KJ is one character in Seven Seconds who has power but lacks status amongst her peers and society (Fast, Halevy & Galinsky, 2011). On the one hand, she is in a privileged position in terms of her job role. However, on the other hand, she is underappreciated and often disrespected by others. Her unconventional partner, Fish, is also somewhat of a joke in the Jersey City precinct. He is openly racist and has been emasculated by his ex-wife’s promiscuous reputation. Can such a mismatched pair solve what happened to Brenton Butler? 

What’s interesting about this series is that there is a massive focus on the victim’s family. Not only does Seven Seconds consider the impact of Brenton’s death, but also focuses on the dynamics and strains on the remaining family members - mother, father and uncle. Often in situations like this, familial relations break down (Salakari, Kaunonenab & Ahoa, 2014).  Some of the consequences of losing a child include the parents having marital problems; becoming estranged (Arnold & Gemma, 2008) or the breakdown of the relationship as a result of infidelity (Gigy & Kelly, 1993).  Some of these consequences are explored in more detail in Seven Seconds. 

The bond between Brenton’s parents starts to break down to the point where Brenton’s mother, Latrice, cannot return to the family home and instead starts to live in her car. Returning to work after Brenton’s death is too much for her to bare. In reality, many families are expected to return to ordinary life after only a short period of time following their child’s death, regardless of the circumstances. After losing his job, Brenton’s father - Isaiah - also starts to go off the rails. Even Brenton’s uncle, a man who Brenton deeply admired and respected, turns to illegitimate means in order to seek justice for his nephew’s death.

The aftermath of a child’s death is largely missing from TV dramas such as this. Often there is an emphasis on the perpetrator of the crime hence why dramas like Seven Seconds are extremely important for public viewing. Not only do they increase awareness in terms of how the family navigates their trauma, but they also move the focus from the perpetrator and consider the victim more broadly thus, raising the victim’s status. Why don’t we readily reflect upon the impact of a crime on the victim’s wider support network? Is it just that we are not interested in the victim’s family/friends or is it that we are more interested the perpetrator’s psychological motives? Have we simply forgotten that the victim has family and friends? Has ‘wound culture’ become so entrenched in us that we don’t see past the gore to aftermath of such crimes?    

By Morag Kennedy


Arnold, J., & Gemma, P. B. (2008) The continuing process of parental grief. Death Studies, 32, pp. 658-673.

Fast, N.J., Halevy, N., Galinsky, A.D. (2011) The destructive nature of power without status, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(1), pp. 391-394.

Gigy, L., & Kelly, J. B. (1993) Reasons for divorce: Perspectives of divorcing men and women. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 18, pp. 169-187.

Salakari, A., Kaunonenab, M., & Ahoa, A.L. (2014) Negative Changes in a Couple’s Relationship After a Child’s Death. Interpersona, 8(2), pp. 193–209.

The content above is the opinion of the author(s), and does not represent the views or opinions of Birmingham City University.

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