REVIEW: Traffic Stop [2017]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: NR | Runtime: 30 minutes | Release Date: 2017 (USA)
Studio: HBO Films
Director(s): Kate Davis

“I did not trust him”

Some topics deserve the time to delve underneath the surface of what we see, know, and assume. The violent arrest of Breaion King is one such incident where thirty minutes is simply not enough. But that’s what director Kate Davis has to deliver the intricacies of what occurred in the moment and historically to bring Breaion and officer Brian Manley to it. Traffic Stop does a wonderful job asking the tough questions, but it never really answers any of them. It chooses a side—the correct one—and focuses on a lot of superficial backstory unable to truly breakthrough towards the real issues at hand. It shows King to be everything racist white people don’t believe black people can be as though that’s enough to prove its point.

Unfortunately it’s not. Rather than shine a light on the police brutality targeting black communities throughout the United States regardless of whether the person assaulted has a criminal record or a Ph.D., it argues that Breaion didn’t deserve to be a victim because she falls in the latter category. The film never tries to breakdown the dash-cam video and see where things went wrong in order to educate drivers and officers about what should have happened differently. It merely presents it in full under the guise of being cut and dry—something it’s not. While it does prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Manley needed to be stripped of his badge (he was finally fired three years later), it ignores nuance.

The issue is trust. Breaion had no trust in the officer who arrested her. Why? This is the question we need to ask. You can’t say she should have put her feet in the car so he could close the door and not touch her—things aren’t that easy. We’ve all watched black men and women die by a cop’s gun after following orders and staying still. The fear is real. What happens if she closes that door? The dash-cam loses visibility and Manley can do whatever he wants and explain it however makes him look like a hero. This is how the system is broken. The black community has to mistrust the police as a survival technique. They assume the worst because the worst happens too often.

But Davis glosses over this truth. She takes us into King’s classroom instead to show the eight students who rely on her for safety and education. She spends the majority of this short humanizing the person we have no trouble humanizing. King is the victim. To question that is to admit you are most likely racist yourself. What then is the purpose of the film? Why is it trying so hard to paint its victim as a victim when the dash-cam footage shows it with pure objectivity? I honestly don’t know. It wants to show the disconnect between racist cops and innocent black victims, but focuses instead on socio-economics and education as though her status with both means she never should have been in this situation. That’s backwards.

The goal should be showing how neither matters. Manley doesn’t care about Breaion’s occupation or address. He sees a black woman and lets his racist tendencies turn an exchange that needed compassion into one with extreme violence. I don’t therefore see how the film adds anything to the conversation. Its goal is less about bringing attention to the issues below the surface and more a straight biography trying to clear its victim’s now-sullied name. But that route reveals issues with the media’s portrayal of violence and the ubiquity of misinformation through incomplete news. The reason King sees mug shots when Googling her name is because that system is broken too. Without saying why or how to fix anything, though, Traffic Stop wastes its potential to be more important.

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