“We are at war and you are the frontline. What do you fight violence with? Superior violence. Righteous violence. Violence is your tool … You are men and women of violence.”
The man speaking in the quote above is a certain Dave Grossman, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel with a packed national speaking schedule who at that point, is addressing a room full of police officers. It’s a key scene from tonight’s documentary on Rialto Channel, DO NOT RESIST, in which Grossman also proclaims that one perk of violent encounters is that police often say that afterwards they have the best sex of their lives. Watching the movie by Craig Atkinson - which won the award for best documentary feature at the Tribeca Film Festival - has never made me feel gladder to be living in New Zealand, where yes, police brutality surely occurs, but the majority of our force is more friend than foe.
Opening on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, as the community grapples with the death of Michael Brown, DO NOT RESIST offers a stunning look at the current state of policing in America and a glimpse into the future. It puts us as viewers in the centre of the action, from a ride-along with a South Carolina SWAT team and inside the aforementioned police training seminar that teaches righteous violence, to the floor of a congressional hearing on the proliferation of military equipment in small-town police departments.
Centred around concern about the US’s increased militarization of the police force, Atkinson reportedly originally started making the film because he felt the hunt for the Boston marathon bombers was chaotic and heavy-handed in its use of military equipment, but his interest actually started closer to home. I read an interview where he talks about how he grew up with a father who was an officer in a city near Detroit and a longtime SWAT team member, and how he was shocked to learn how the SWAT mission had gradually changed over the years. In the age of fear generated by the increased threat of terrorist attacks, SWAT deployments are terrifying, and also occurring at a greater rate than ever. Atkinson’s film cites statistics like the fact that in 1980 there were 3,000 Swat deployments but by 2005 that number had climbed to 45,000. Estimates place current annual numbers between 50,000 and 80,000.
Fearing terrorism and supposedly fighting an ongoing war with the drug trade, the federal government has been gleefully handing over everything from bayonets to armoured vehicles to police departments over the years, and many of its more prejudiced officers have certainly taken the ball and run with it. It has essentially created an occupying military force in its own country: since 1997, the Pentagon’s surplus giveaways have been worth more than USD $4 billion, while the Department of Homeland Security has provided millions more in grants.
What is particularly evident from the film – and press reports of the killing of innocent young black males in the US that seem to be appearing every day – SWAT teams and local law enforcement are targeting black and brown communities with a vengeance, and clearly don’t approach predominantly white areas plagued by heroin use with the same fervour. One officer justifies it all by citing the need to be ready for ISIS at all times, the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction and “a situation like what they had in Missouri”. That public protests warrant tanks and machine guns seems just absurd to me, but clearly not many of these cops.
DO NOT RESIST is not an easy watch, as troops of police choose to rape and pillage rather than protect and serve. In the Trump era this can only get worse, which makes it all the more terrifying.
DO NOT RESIST premieres Thursday 20 July at 8.30pm on Rialto Channel
Watch trailer here
Remote record here