Review: ‘Do Not Resist’ looks at police arms race

Tom Long
The Detroit News

The documentary “Do Not Resist” opens with shockingly clear shots of thunder clouds hovering over Ferguson, Missouri, while police man huge armored vehicles, waiting for protests to begin there following the shooting of an unarmed black man.

By the time the film is done, it’s clear that such threatening clouds hover over most of the United States. But as startling and moving as the Ferguson footage is, this is not a film about racism in America. It is, instead, a film about the increased militarization of America’s police forces. And it is scary stuff indeed.

Over the past couple of decades, and especially since the failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of Defense has been giving its excess armored vehicles to police forces. Many of them have been used, but 36 percent of them are new — your tax dollars at work. And SWAT teams have taken to these lumbering vehicles like bees to honey.

The film goes along with SWAT teams from different areas of the country. One team goes after a supposed major drug dealer, rolling up to his house in full armor, armed to the teeth, busting windows to distract those inside the house while going through the front door.

What they find is a startled black family. The suspected dealer is a college student who runs his own lawn service and has a few stray buds in his book bag. He has $800 on him, intended to buy new lawn equipment. The cops confiscate the money, arrest the kid for possession — he’s home by nightfall — and the family is left to pay for the broken windows.

Feel safer?

You shouldn’t. The DOD has also distributed thousands of bayonets to police forces across the country. What possible use do bayonets have in police work?

The outrages pile on. Airplanes that monitor cities from above, a college professor who is sizing up the likelihood of violent behavior through statistical analysis. One police force in a small town consists of one officer — yet it has two armored vehicles!

Director and cinematographer Craig Atkinson has a sterling eye, and this is the most well-framed documentary in memory. Still, it’s hard to find the beauty in the many armored cars that prowled through Ferguson as police officers showered tear gas down on protesters. This has gotten out of hand.

Tom Long is a longtime culture critic

‘Do Not Resist’


Not rated

Running time: 72 minutes