Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Review: Do Not Resist Militarization Of Police Because You're Way Too Late

Scene from the documentary Do Not Resist: a protester in Concord, New Hampshire
objecting to the town council's decision to acquire a "free" military vehicle for use by local law enforcement.

How to explain the epidemic of fatal shootings of unarmed black men, boys and women in the U.S.? Some say racist violence by police has been happening all along and the rise of cell phone cameras plus the ability to share images immediately has made an old problem seem new. Others blame bad police training that focuses on discharging firearms and gives short shrift to defusing ones own fear in potentially dangerous situations. Some note how many veterans of the empire's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq  joined law enforcement with a penchant for applying deadly force to situations that don't warrant it. 

Others fear that our corporate overlords want a race war at home to distract the populace from their rapid takeover of resources and are using police to incite civil unrest along racially polarized lines.

Whatever the explanation, it's a fact that since September 11, 2001 the militarization of the U.S. has galloped along with few objections from a blithely ignorant populace coached to believe that "terror" from outside is the thing to fear. People of color have stood up and the Black Lives Matter movement has gained prominence objecting to racial bias in overly aggressive policing, it's true, but organized efforts to resist arming and training police and sheriffs to resemble G.I. Joe dolls have been sadly few and far between. The City of Oakland is a notable exception, turning out regularly to object to becoming a "Domain Awareness Center" for militarized policing in the volatile and geographically key San Francisco Bay Area.  Meanwhile, policing all over the nation has gone to a place from which there may be no possibility of return.
A "free" MRAP armored vehicle patrols a neighborhood in Wisconsin.
Do Not Resist won best documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival -- from a panel of jurors that included Citizenfour documentarian Laura Poitras -- and is now in general release. It details the spread of "free" military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, how the hardware is used and on whom, while it also delves into some of the "training" police and FBI agents receive from a comically creepy motivational speaker. It also offers a focused look at the police response to protests after the death by shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Police trainer Dave Grossman put me in mind of Tom Cruise's manic character from the film Magnolia, and he may very well be on some of the same drugs. Delivering a messianic vision of testosterone run amok as the character Tom T.J. Mackey, Cruise may have been channeling the demagogue with the bad hair currently running for president when he preached to a fictional audience in the 1999 film:
Respect the cock! And tame the cunt! Tame it! Take it on headfirst with the skills that I will teach you at work and say no! You will not control me! No! You will not take my soul!
Grossman, supposedly our country's leading trainer of law enforcement personnel (if this is so we are in deep trouble) tells a real audience of law enforcers:
You fight violence with superior violence, righteous violence. Violence is your tool; violence is your enemy; violence is a realm we operate in. You are men and women of violence. You must master it or it will destroy you.
Grossman goes on to urge cops to enjoy the perq of "the best sex in months" when they get home after mastering violence. (Exceptionally high rates of domestic violence among this group don't seem that surprising after this peek inside their culture.) 

A flirtatious encounter between Ferguson cops who bump riot shields as they head home from a night of showing force after the grand jury failed to indict Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown underscores the point: swaggering around heavily armored and armed is a turn on for many in the law enforcement field.
South Carolina drug bust in progress.
The film stays true to its documentary roots by choosing to show rather than tell of the racism inherent in using SWAT teams to target suspected drug dealers around the nation. 
We watch as cops dressed like soldiers break windows and kick down doors of black families who have this experience repeatedly. The 1.5 grams of marijuana dug out of the bottom of a book bag belonging to the young father who's a college student clearly disappoints the South Carolina cop who leads that particular attack -- but not so much that he apologizes to the woman holding a little baby on her lap. 

In a different scene, a SWAT team sends filmmakers away once the heavily armed squad has subdued a few black people outside the house who appear to offer no resistance; after the film van drives a few blocks we see two ambulances with sirens blaring who appear to be moving in the direction of the bust. What, if anything, was found at that house? We never learn.
Ferguson cops forcibly enter a store where they have detected movement.
Another subtle reveal is the excitement in the voices of Ferguson police when they discover that someone may be inside (wait for it)...a store! There is very little in the narrative about protecting and upholding life but there are a plethora of bland bureaucratic excuses offered by police confronted by angry community members questioning their conduct. Not surprisingly, police feel they are never wrong. Perhaps it's because, like FBI director James Comey assures a group of police chiefs in the film:
Monsters are real...because monsters are real, and too often equipped with firepower to outgun those of us in law enforcement -- we need a range of weapons and equipment to respond and protect our fellow citizen and protect ourselves.
Goddess help us all.

Oddly, the U.S. Senate comes off looking heroic for a change as the film shows a committee questioning heads of the Pentagon and Homeland Security programs responsible for funneling so much military hardware to civilian law enforcement. Claire McCaskill of Missouri holds their feet to the flame over claiming the equipment is surplus when, in fact, much of it has never been used. 

The spookiest part of this October release is the depiction of total surveillance using drones and airplanes equipped with high resolution cameras and where that practice is headed. An aspiring monster named Richard Berk, a UPenn criminology professor, claims to use data like this to predict who has "a 50-50 change of committing homicide by the age of 18" -- before that person is even born! Berk pretends concern about what he might tell the expectant mother of such a victim of algorithms run amok.
Political art by Anthony Freda
His confident assertion that soon robots will decide whom to kill -- even more accurately than cops do! -- based on predictive models he helped develop appears highly gratifying. 

Let's hope his own mother has passed on by now because, if I were Berk, I'd be more worried about what to tell her about his life work than what to tell a black mother about his privileged white "predictions" about her child's future path.

A great film that packs a lot to think about into 72 minutes, Do Not Resist is in theaters near you. It is also being made available to educational institutions via distributor Ro*Co films. Do not miss it.

1 comment:

Sarah Roche-Mahdi said...

Thanks SO much for this, Lisa