Documentary exposes police militarization

Pentagon supplies weaponry for local wars on us, ‘the enemy’

Scene from Do Not Resist courtesy of Vanish Films
Scene from Do Not Resist courtesy of Vanish Films (

Do Not Resist offers a firsthand look at the methods and actions of the militarization of American Police Forces. “This film was incredibly impactful,” said Mica Grimm, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. Do Not Resist was shown as part of the Walker Art Center’s “Cinema of Urgency” series, monthly events leading up to the 2016 election.

On August 18, the Walker hosted a viewing of the film followed by a panel discussion moderated by U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison. The panel included the film’s director and cinematographer Craig Atkinson, Grimm, and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Minnesota Legislative Director Ben Feist.

Grimm says the film is impactful “not only for the truth of what is going on in communities around the country, but to show what is happening to American citizens over the past couple years, the trauma and PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] the American citizens have been put through in regards to their right to protest.”

The film examined policies of post-September 11, including the artillery in small American towns, the war on drugs, and the protests of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Atkinson won Best Documentary Feature for the film at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

Part of what motivated him to direct the project was that his father was a police officer in Detroit for 29 years and was a member of its SWAT (special weapons and tactics) team from 1989 until 2002. “I kind of grew up with the whole war on drugs era,” Atkinson said.

During his father’s 13 years on the SWAT team, they conducted 29 search warrants total, Atkinson explained. Currently, “We go to South Carolina, they’re doing 200 a year, an equivalent of two or three a day. It comes down to money and economics. They’re seizing property in order to fund their police department. Low-level arrests in Minnesota for drugs are 8.7 times higher for Blacks than for Whites. Part of that is this continued push to use funds to target drugs.”

The policing-for-profit motive is legally known as civil asset forfeiture. This means police only need “probable cause” with or without evidence to search an area. A person need only be suspected in any criminal activity to be searched.

Under civil forfeiture, a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime or even charged to permanently lose cash, their car, home, or other property. In Minnesota, 70 percent of what is seized goes directly to the same law enforcement agency who took it.

The film documents the militarization of the police force. Ellison is currently pushing for the “Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.” This bill would repeal and drastically change the 1033 program, which permits the Secretary of Defense to transfer Department of Defense supplies and equipment to state and local law enforcement agencies for use in their law enforcement duties. This costs the agency practically nothing except shipping or transportation costs.

“Technology companies are essentially selling these items to law enforcement for war,” said Atkinson. “Oftentimes the companies have police sign a non-disclosure agreement, so they cannot tell the cities what they are using, including body cameras. They already figured out how to do face-time recognition, making squad cars wi-fi hubs.”

“The police that are supposed to protect and serve are repeatedly told we are the enemy,” continued Grimm. “I am not the enemy. I am fighting for civil rights, practicing my First Amendment rights — the pillars America stands on — yet I’m the enemy.”

Of the 1033 program, Grim said. “It was written by and for police officers [and] given a liberal title to assume it protects the citizens. Really, it’s for extra protection and extra surveillance for the police.”

Throughout the country, there have been numerous peaceful protests that have ended violently. “One thing police hate is a Black person who knows their rights,” said Grimm. As she described the protest that shut down Interstate 94 shortly after the Philando Castile shooting, she stated how the police informed her and fellow protestors over loudspeakers, “You are not allowed to be here because it is an unlawful assembly!”

Grimm responded, “This is Black Lives Matter. We are exercising our First Amendment right to express and protest. We have every right to be here.”

She stated the police knew legally they did not have a right to stop the protest, but with smoke bombs they escalated the situation. “All of a sudden we were violent protestors and rioters,” said Grimm “When someone innocent is killed, that is the situation that causes violence and anger — not the protesting.”

“Tear gas and guns blasting off, it just seems like they are itching for a fight, a continual form of racial oppression,” said Ellison. “The truth is we are in a position to make our government live up to their promise for equality and justice for all.”

Atkinson encouraged attendees to spread the word about the film and to get involved. “We can challenge these aspects at both a state and local level. It’s only going to get worse unless we push things forward on it. This is a great film to get this out and get people motivated to take action.”

 

Do Not Resist opens nationwide September 30 in limited locations.

Ivan Phifer welcomes reader’s responses to iphifer@spokesman-recorder.com.