On February 27, POV and New York’s public television station WNET co-presented a screening of the award-winning documentary Do Not Resist at the Tumblr Headquarters in New York City. Following the film, there was a panel discussion about the use of military equipment and tactics by police departments across the United States, and the challenges of protecting civil liberties in an era of police militarization. The panel was moderated by Jenna Flanagan, co-host of MetroFocus at WNET, and featured Craig Atkinson, the film’s director; Rachel Levinson-Waldman, Senior Counsel of the Liberty and National Security Program at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice; Rinku Sen, author, activist, and Senior Strategist at Race Forward; and Marne Lenox, Assistant Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Dinner was provided by Just Soul Catering, a company that seeks to break down social barriers by hiring formerly incarcerated employees.
The son of a S.W.A.T. team member in Detroit, Craig Atkinson thought he knew what he was getting into when he started a new documentary project on American policing. But after three years of filming, what he discovered was an unprecedented lurch toward militarization for local police forces since 9/11. Do Not Resist starts with the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and takes viewers through eleven states to show the changing face of local law enforcement across the country. From S.W.A.T. raid drug searches in South Carolina, to a congressional hearing on federal funding, to the inside of a police training seminar, Atkinson’s film is a boots-on-the-ground look into the militarization of American policing.
Atkinson has said that he hopes Do Not Resist will be a conversation starter for young officers as “we identify ways to give them the tools they actually need the most in the field.” As a wake-up call to society, Atkinson aspires that “both community members and officers working hard to challenge the culture of policing within their departments use this film to illustrate the dire need for change”.
All of the panelists emphasized the emotional impact of the film and the importance of the topic, especially in light of protest movements in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other cities across the country. Each panelist spoke with authority in their own field of expertise. Lenox of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund spoke about criminal justice litigation in relation to the discriminatory S.W.A.T. raids shown in the film.
Audience members were invited to participate in a Q&A after the panel discussion, during which they asked questions about the funding of police departments, the proliferation of technology and its use by police departments, and actions steps moving forward. They also discussed a polarizing figure from the film: Dave Grossman. Grossman is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who now leads training sessions for police departments; in the film he is shown telling an audience of law enforcement professionals, “You are men and women of violence. You must master it, or it will destroy you.” But at a different conference, then-Chicago police chief Garry McCarthy implores restraint on the use of force in law enforcement. “What happened in Ferguson—the actual practice of how the demonstrations were handled—I think we’re all embarrassed by it, quite frankly, in law enforcement.” As the film shows, this debate is as much an internal one among law enforcement leaders as it is a discussion between policymakers and the public.
This event was facilitated by Amanda Granger, Associate Director at WNET Education, and Erika Howard, Director of Audience Engagement & Station Marketing at POV. For more information about upcoming POV screenings in your area, visit communitynetwork.amdoc.org/events.