August 17, 2014: Cops surrounded by tear gas during the Ferguson protests

The documentary Do Not Resist, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, takes a look at the startling military tactics used by cops in America. Among the grimmest revelations in the film is a comment from a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, who says he was told to put more black people in prison.

In 2014, after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, filmmaker Craig Atkinson says an officer approached him and told him about an order given from above. The story via Fusion:

Atkinson was brought to a house just outside Ferguson, Missouri, and handed a stack of about 300 arrest reports from a nearby shopping center. All of the people arrested over a three-month period were black, Atkinson said, and all by three officers. The filmmaker asked his father—who was a police officer for 29 years outside Detroit—whether or not it was normal to arrest so many people over such a short period of time. “It was like 400% of what would be reasonable for an officer to do,” Atkinson told Fusion.

The cop told Atkinson officers had been told by their superiors to “make the jail dark.”

That’s a command straight from the group of people who get paid to protect us.

Besides interviews, Do Not Resist also features “ride-alongs with police officers and footage of government hearings” meant to show all the extreme force cops have applied to citizens, largely people of color, over the years:

The film frames the militarization of police forces across America as a direct response to the World Trade Center attack in 2001. Since then, the Department of Homeland Security has given police departments $34 billion to purchase military equipment. And the Department of Defense has contributed $5 billion in free military equipment to law enforcement since 1997.

The fact is, this equipment needs to be used for something—because this is a country that hates burning money—which means it gets used on the most powerless people.

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Atkinson notes this, telling Fusion, “When you put $40 billion into an industry, you’re going to get results. And we happen to put that money into equipment, and so of course the focus is going to shift to using the equipment...[The police] all think they’re preparing for terrorism. But the day-to-day reality is that they’re using it for drug search warrants.”

There’s a particularly alarming scene in the film involving a SWAT team drug bust in South Carolina that highlights this point:

After the SWAT team clears the home, there is an image of a young black baby sitting on her mother’s lap looking around at the scene, confused. The mother bounces the baby to soothe her. A young black man is whisked away for possession—at the bottom of his backpack police recovered a gram and a half of marijuana. The police seized almost $1,000 from the young man, who was planning to use the money to purchase a lawnmower to start a business. The next day, during an interview with Atkinson, the young man’s mother tells says incredulously, “Y’all looking for a terrorist? You think there’s a terrorist in here? That’s the kind of feeling I had.”

Who are the real terrorists here? Atkinson, a white man, doesn’t think “they” would have allowed a black filmmaker to follow through on this film, which won best documentary feature at Tribeca.

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“Democrats love it, libertarians love it, conservatives love it,” says Atkinson. “They all find something to grab on to. Which means that there is starting to be a unifying force of dissent in this country. And I think that any election that has left both sides dissatisfied is usually writing on the wall for some significant change.”


Image via Getty