Do Not Resist, a disturbing account of police militarisation in the US

Review of Do Not Resist (2016)

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Police forces across the United States have in recent years become increasingly militarised. Ostensibly, this transition is mainly to boost counter-drug and counter-terrorism capabilities of police forces across the country. It has occurred through various means, such as the ‘1033 program’, whereby excess military equipment gets transferred, typically for free, to civilian law enforcement agencies. Additionally, since 2001 there have been huge grants given to state and local police forces to be spent on military-grade hardware. Do Not Resist examines this pernicious trend and how it is impacting policing in the US.

It is definitely worth a watch; there are some absolutely stunning shots in the documentary, some eerily beautiful and many which make you question whether or not the film-makers were actually in America at the time. Perhaps the most memorable segment in the whole film is when we join a SWAT team raiding a suspected drug-house in a poor, predominantly black neighbourhood. Windows are smashed, heavily armed men rush into the house and everyone on the scene is interrogated. All that’s found is a tiny amount of marijuana. America’s pointless and failed war on drugs couldn’t be epitomised more perfectly.

However, I have one mild criticism of the film. I would say that it is perhaps a bit too dense in ‘moody music and shots of military vehicles driving around town scenes’ and too light on interviews with academics and activists who could actually explain the complex and nuanced ways in which militarisation affects policing. One of the main negative effects being, for instance, the way trust between communities and police forces will typically be eroded when cops go from being friendly, approachable guys standing around drinking black-coffee to black-clad soldiers with assault rifles and scary helmets.

When you think about it, it’s not necessarily that obvious why the┬ámilitarisation of police is a bad idea- indeed, some of the public comments we hear from a town hall meeting are essentially just “We don’t want to see this in the USA!”. Indeed, but why not? I know that ‘experts’ are a derided bunch currently, but here it would have made sense to have included their opinions quite a bit more to help clarify the issues.

Nevertheless, it’s still a slick production and although it could be meatier in the interviewing department, it should be required viewing for any Americans interested in their floundering democracy. The implications really are quite profound; when the police start to see themselves as soldiers, what will be the end result for the country? What happens when even non-violent protests start being responded to by this new generation of warrior cops? Can the trust in police in poor black communities ever be cultured when impoverished, low-level drug dealers get raided by SWAT teams? Is the country now on a highway to fascism? Do Not Resist certainly paints a bleak picture of the future.