October 13, 2016
The new documentary “Do Not Resist” opened up last week, receiving positive reviews for its honest yet alarming look at the state of policing in the United States. From Ferguson, Missouri to Columbia, South Carolina my interview with Craig Atkinson highlights the areas of policing that must be done away with.
What inspired this film?
I was surprised by the way that the police approached the community in the days after the Boston Marathon Bombing. I’ve interviewed people who had been ripped from their homes, handcuffed and detained for hours without notification of why they were being detained, or subsequently have any charges filed against them. It seemed like in the wake of the fear that the bombings left behind, the police were treating the community as if they were an occupying force. It was the first time that I had seen the level of weaponry and armament that police had been given post 9/11. My father was a police officer for 29 years in a town outside Detroit and was a SWAT officers for 13 of those years. I was familiar with the war on drugs era of SWAT, but what I witnessed in the days after the Boston bombing was the War on Terror’s influence.
What audience did you have in mind for this film?
Now that it’s done, the film is intended for anyone whose life is affected by law enforcement, basically every citizen of the US. We’re not saying anything new for people who have lived this experience, this film is a visual example of headlines we’ve been seeing since Ferguson. I hope the film can serve as a teaching tool for law enforcement. We show areas of police work that need great reform. People have remarked that they’re thankful that we do not condemn officers, but rather let scenes unfold, allowing the viewer to make their own decision.
Why did you choose to film from the perspective of the police?
Typically when we see police shows on television and the camera is always glorifying the police and condemning the accused, but we were interested in showing the events from a more neutral, observational place. As time went on it became apparent that the most value that we could bring to the conversation was to remain focused on telling the perspective that other may have not been able to get.
In hindsight, is there anything you wish you did differently in the making of this film?
We didn’t get a scene where the SWAT teams could be justified for using the level of equipment. We kept thinking that our next raid would be the one where the police would find the weapons, the terrorist, or huge stashes of drugs, but we kept coming up empty. We did a half dozen raids during the course of making the film and never found anything more than a single joint of marijuana. If you look at how SWAT is deployed in this country over 80% is for search warrants, almost always for drugs. During the 13 years that my father was a SWAT officer his team conducted 29 search warrants. Contrast that to today when teams of a similar size are doing 3 to 4 a day, over 200 per year.
What’s your ideal outcome for your film and its success?
If we can continue to reach community members and law enforcement, that would be a huge success. I hope we get people to question how we are training our officers. I hope we continue the discussions around for-profit policing. I’m encouraged by New Hampshire and other states around the country which are beginning to pass laws requiring a criminal conviction before seizing one’s assets. I’m encouraged by any legislative action that gets our domestic policing policy back in line with the constitution. I hope this film is used to continue those efforts.
Ifetayo Harvey is a communications associate with the Drug Policy Alliance.
Image: Police in Richland County, South Carolina conduct a drug search warrant for marijuana. Courtesy of VANISH Films.