Tribeca Film Festival Review: DO NOT RESIST Aims To Shock Audiences Out of Compliance

An alarming look at police militarization.

Police Brutality had been a serious issue affecting the country for many years, gaining prominence on the modern media landscape during the Rodney King beating and ensuing riots in the '90s and continuing to this day with national media attention given to the controversial killings of unarmed citizens by the police. Concurrently, the police militarization born from the effects of the so-called Global War on Terrorism and homeland security efforts has been a growing concern which threatens the safety of the civilian population and the integrity of law enforcement institutions. Do Not Resist is an attempt to explore the correlation between the two issues and also serve as a warning against a situation which will get worse if left unchecked.

Director Craig Atkinson opens the film with a harrowing front-line account of the Ferguson, Missouri riots, ignited after the killing of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson. As it happens, Atkinson actually began creating this documentary in response to the heavily armed police response of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. As such, with his high powered professional recording equipment at the ready, Atkins showcases some of the sharpest and most concise footage of the heavy handed riot response to date, using his cinematography background to add clarity and focus to the shaky, broken imagery seen in previous television news broadcasts and guerrilla journalism live streams viewed online.
Do Not Resist continues its ground-level exploration of the subject matter as it follows SWAT teams on a series of no-knock raids on houses suspected of trafficking drugs and weapons. These instances tie into the failures of the war on drugs and its parallels to flawed counter-terrorism practices which alienate citizens and mar public trust. One family is subjected to continued trauma, property damage, and the arrest of a family member all for a loose ounce of marijuana scraped out of a small bag, while another family with a wheelchair-bound member is subject to a joint police/ATF raid wherein the significance of the items uncovered is specious at best.

The next stop in the documentary takes us to Concord, New Hampshire where we are privy to a contentious townhall hearing regarding the purchase of a military surplus mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP) to be used by the local sheriff. Concerned citizens, including several former/retired military service-members, make logical and impassioned arguments against the purchase of the MRAP, which tragically fall on deaf ears as the city council votes to approve the purchase. This instance of institutional failure is but one of multiple occurrences throughout the country in which the government chooses to equip police officers with absurdly over powered and overbearing tools of war in the name of short-sighted readiness and a false sense of security.

We also get a look at this fight at the federal level, with footage covering a senate hearing about the abhorrent wastefulness of government programs providing billions in grants and military equipment to law enforcement, equipment which the receiving institutions will receive little to no training on. To hammer home the magnitude of the situation, a blurb of text which informs the audience that the average MRAP costs 1.2 million to produce lingers on screen as the camera drives down a depot lot filled with endless rows of decommissioned vehicles.

The one lingering issue I have with Do Not Resist is its scatter-shot approach in presenting each of these important issues. Unlike last year's incredible documentary Peace Officer which focuses on the story of one brilliant former police investigator and weaves itself through these topics, Do Not Resist seems to go from one point to the next with no narrative flow.

Despite this recurring issue, Do Not Resist presents its strongest and most resonant piece of information in its final segment concerning the information activities and digital aspects of modern warfare being applied to law enforcement on U.S. Soil. We are given access to the persistent surveillance system known as Angel Fire, in which private contractors provide real time aerial reconnaissance to police departments of major cities across the nation in order to take digital snapshots of any and all personnel and vehicles in vicinity of a reported crime at any given time. Having experience with the process of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), I found this segment particularly troubling. To use ISR effectively, one must designate a target based on reliable information and allocate collection based on reasonable timetables and patterns. This constant over-watch in essence designates the entire populace as actionable targets under reasonable suspicion, an extremely dangerous mindset for any law enforcement officer to have towards the citizens they are sworn to protect.

We are then brought into a discussion involving a database which takes into account the economic, social, and geographic factors surrounding any given individual which is then used to compute a statistical propensity for said individual to commit a violent crime. The mind boggles at the mathematical wizardry, but this feeling very quickly gives way to a sense of dread at the frightening implications of this seemingly pre-cognitive algorithm. Heavily armed shock troop SWAT teams in armored vehicles rolling down Main Street is but one part of the equation; when eyes in the sky have all our faces tagged and movements memorized, and when our friends and family become links in pattern analysis to be used to conduct targeted raids to capture us, we are truly one step closer to the Orwellian dystopia of our nightmares becoming a reality.

Do Not Resist can come off as heavy handed at times, but that seems to be very much the point of this movie. With my years of experience as a service member and an African American male, most of the information presented was nothing new to me. On the other hand, the elderly white woman sitting next to me was absolutely shocked and appalled by the apparent revelations presented to her on screen. We then spoke briefly about Posse Comitatus, Title 10, and the astronomical costs of the decades long war on terror as the credits rolled. There was a slightly more contentious discussion between the director and one of the audience members after the screening where he accused the film of being one-sided. The audience member (who from his appearance and stature was likely an older retired service-member or law enforcement officer) raised the argument that such systems could be great assets in child abduction/missing persons cases. As it happened, the director invited two former inmates to the screening, black men falsely imprisoned on trumped up charges whose stories were instrumental to making the documentary. Apparently, this old white man chose to remain completely oblivious to the real world victims of such systems in favor of his hypothetical missing little girl. All in all, it became clear that sparking conversations like these was very much the intent of this film, so in that regard it Do Not Resist is a resounding success. With any luck, it will receive a wider release in the near future and help start more of these vital discussions.