“It isn’t just us. It’s everybody.”
First-time director Craig Atkinson‘s Do Not Resist could easily have become an agenda piece highlighting one viewpoint of the escalating militarization of America’s police force above another. His footage on the ground at Ferguson during the protests of Michael Brown’s murder and numerous glimpses inside deliberations of city, state, and federal commissions seeking to bolster defense and/or question why leans towards the opinion that the country is growing more and more totalitarian. If he added talking-head interviews from liberal experts with leading questions that spin themes of power-hungry goons and racial bias and you’d have what many conservatives will probably dismiss this documentary as anyway. But it’s not true. If Do Not Resist does lean one way over the other it’s simply a result of the truth’s absurdity.
Atkinson’s goal was to seek answers. He watched the police response to the Boston Marathon bombing and couldn’t believe there were tank-like vehicles roaming the streets. His father had been an officer for twenty-nine years in a bordering city of Detroit, thirteen as a member of SWAT, and yet this type of “defense” never occurred. From 1989 to 2002 his city’s SWAT conducted twenty-nine search warrants and yet today a comparable department in a comparable city may do more than two hundred annually. The discrepancy is huge and yet it doesn’t seem our nation has gotten safer. Rather than defuse situations, these military-grade vehicles and weapons may actually escalate them. It’s patronizing to say the public just doesn’t understand and it’s idiocy to say the system isn’t broken.
His hope is for both citizens and law enforcement to watch the unfiltered events he’s put onscreen to objectively see that something must change. Atkinson doesn’t try to present answers because he doesn’t have any to give. No one at this juncture does. That is why our nation must see the divide and work towards closing it. It must see how a SWAT officer can happily exclaim that it’s a 50/50 shot of finding something during the thousands of warrants police conduct across the country. Just because they have the scary vehicles and tactics without oversight doesn’t mean they should use them when the rate of success is so low. You can tell Atkinson is hoping to film a win for the authorities somewhere, but it never comes.
Seeing the rhetoric of a guy like Lt. Col. Dave Grossman—an author whose studies in “killology” have become required reading by the FBI and other organizations—get our police and military jazzed about domestic warfare only harms their image. He literally praises how no one in Russia is questioning the military presence in their streets as though it’s a good thing and not a symptom of oppression. He tells the class Atkinson films that they’ll be vindicated; that there will be a nightmarish assault of terror law enforcement will be required to conquer and when the dust settles a militarized state will rise from the ashes. He tells them it’s all okay because the adrenaline rush of murder will supply them the greatest sex they’ve ever had.
This isn’t a prompted conversation or staged for the benefit of a liberal agenda. These are the words used to empower employees of the state paid by taxpayers. These are the words that can’t help but manifest a sense of superiority and carte blanche action. The man Atkinson puts onscreen to explain the current and future state of predictive measures labeling human beings as “Darth Vaders or Luke Skywalkers” actually says that in order to ensure the bad are kept under lock and key a few good won’t have their chance to prove rehabilitation. And in a post-9/11 existence people condone this. They want strangers locked up who might kill them whether they’ll admit as much or not. It’s a product of the fear our government helped cultivate.
You cannot ignore what’s happening after watching a film like this. You cannot listen to the directors of a program that puts free military equipment in the hands of our local police forces—equipment that may not have ever been used and therefore not necessarily in line to be decommissioned for any reason other than unconstitutionally arming a domestic army—say without pause that they don’t care about what the weapons are used for after the fact and be okay. You can’t begrudge all those involved for capitalizing on it either, though. If the government were offering you a free MRAP vehicle through grants that increase America’s debt, you’d say yes too. Why not take a cool new toy? You may use it; you may not.
The reality becomes a question of what we can do to combat the ever-evolving technological landscape in front of us. Once things become cheaper to manufacture and wield, someone needs to figure out how, why, and if they should be used outside of their designated venue. It all goes hand in hand with the political corruption occurring across all parties at every level of government. If the right wheels are greased, things are put in motion for which the people may not be fully cognizant. One officer uses a comparison to “Person of Interest” aptly but from the wrong position. Technology like Harold Finch’s computer would be great to utilize if the people in charge are trustworthy. Nine times out of ten they aren’t. That’s the real issue.
How do we ensure only those with the training and a moral/ethical compass to preserve our rights as citizens handle the new toys? How does the personnel get bolstered with that free money rather than caches of tools? You can give five idiots with the same psychological leanings as sociopathic killers infinite weaponry and a badge, but you cannot call them heroes when their proclivities trump their humanity. A lot of the good officers making unconscionable mistakes are doing so out of fear—the fear that their bosses and their country has instilled by telling them they need assault vehicles and bayonets. If you tell someone to defend himself on either side of the law, he will. Somewhere along the way, however, diplomacy as a first move disappeared.