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"A riot is the language of the unheard." chapter heading
Having never participated in a protest, much less a riot, I felt I had done both after experiencing directors Sabaah Folay and Damon Davis's Whose Streets? Their documentary about Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Mike Brown in 2014 is an unremittingly real and passionate participant point of view that celebrates the will of an oppressed people to be heard.
Whose Streets? documents the thoughts and actions of the largely black population as they experience the white-cop brutality of Ferguson and St. Louis police forces, culminating in Mike Brown's being shot 8 times by an officer who justifies the assassination with his fear. The grand jury believed he was faultless, leading to disbelief and riots reminiscent of the reaction to Rodney King's killers' exoneration.
The doc is especially effective bringing home the pain with portraits of such sufferers as Brittany Ferrell, a comely and articulate young lesbian who is not afraid to speak her outrage. We see her at home with her children and on the street with the microphone chanting the will to fight to be free, an anthem echoed by virtually everyone facing down the daunting police and national guard forces.
The street's-eye view happens largely because cell phones recorded the abuse with a probing expertise heretofore only the province of professional filmmakers. But not today, when those little devices are adjuncts to the spirit of justice, albeit not always enough to bring convictions. David Whitt, a Copwatch citizen videographer, meticulously records and publishes images that damn the militaristic response, for the film's expert doc makers put them together to devastatingly powerful effect.
Although white cop Darren Wilson, 28, had Brown in his sights after Brown allegedly robbed a convenience store, Brown should not have died for the crime nor should his body have lain in the street for hours while the community and security reacted. However, most of the forensic evidence and testimony proved that Wilson acted in self defense.
If there can be a criticism of this doc, it would be that the evidence finally exonerating Wilson is not presented; he remains guilty in the spirit of the film if not the reality. Although the filmmakers could claim an interest only in the people's plight and reactions, full disclosure for me requires that I also see where the police can be at least partially exonerated.
Justice both civil and spiritual is elusive. Whose Streets? is an estimable rendition of a disadvantaged populace struggling to be heard.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Damon Davis and Sabaah Folayan, activist filmmakers, are the creators
of Whose Streets?", a documentary about the "uprising" in Ferguson,
Missouri, following the infamous 2014 fatal police shooting of a black
As editors, both Davis and Folayan are exceptionally talented, as they stitched together a great deal of disparate video footage (mostly covering the disturbances that broke out after the police shooting) and formed it into coherent whole. There are no interviews done by the filmmakers however, and no real attempt to understand the roots of the community's resentment. Instead, one must fend for oneself in gleaning insights from the denizens of Ferguson who for the most part are good at expressing anger and rage but not so good at communicating the real reasons for the resentment that undoubtedly stems (at its core) from the legacy of slavery.
Davis and Folayan take an uncritical look at the Ferguson activists and protesters who paint themselves as perennial victims of police brutality and institutional racism. There is no hint that maybe not all of the Ferguson residents are acting in their own best interest and maybe some of them are actually self- destructive in their exuberance to right societal wrongs. Like the protesters, Davis and Folayan agree (with them) that change only comes from struggle which sometimes may result in violence in order to wake up the powers that be (one protester argues that the looting of stores cannot be equated with a police shooting resulting in a fatality).
However, it's precisely the circumstances surrounding the police shooting of Michael Brown that the film's directors choose not to examine. Instead, the filmmakers accept the Ferguson black community's belief (a veritable fait accompli) that Brown was shot in an unprovoked attack while he had his hands up. There were however, thousands of pages of grand jury testimony (in an unprecedented move) that was actually released to the public. The events of the shooting are complicatedeven one very pro-Brown witness (#14), who initially insisted that Brown was "executed," later conceded that Brown was moving toward the officer who was yelling "stop" when he fired the fatal round.
While fatal police shootings are not that common, they often seem to be, due to extensive media coverage. There are thousands of police-civilian interactions that happen every day that don't result in violence. Those of course are not covered by the media simply because they're not deemed newsworthy.
Ultimately most of the Ferguson black community were not concerned with the subtleties of grand jury testimony. Brown was the perfect martyr for the cause and they could always use him to justify their rage. Brown was merely a symbol but perhaps the real reasons for the incredible anger had more to do with the day to day police-community interactions that fueled the resentment. As one older black woman put it in response to a white homeowner's grief over the unrest, "you've had to deal with it for two weeks, we've had to deal with it for decades."
We find out what started the whole conflagration in the first place: the police stopped Brown for "walking in the middle of the street" with the rather lame excuse that he was "blocking traffic." There was also a great deal of resentment over the quota of traffic tickets that were being handed out to members of the black communitysome ended up in jail because they couldn't pay the finesand this appeared to be a pre-arranged plan by the Ferguson police (so much so that the US Justice Department later overhauled the police department and city government as a result of what they termed unlawful, racially biased practices).
The Ferguson protesters did much to demonize the police at every turn and the explosion of violence fueled by resentment had to have some basis in fact. The contempt many police officers had for those they were serving in the Ferguson black community, had to exist, as evidenced by the level of rage, depicted in every scene in the film. On the other hand, when protesters are continually "spitting in your face," do they really expect the police to act with more sensitivity toward them? This is a two way streetit's not really important who started it, but there is no such thing as one side who is always the victim.
Davis and Folayan unfortunately do not have the luxury of advanced age to draw more nuanced conclusions about the state of race relations in the US today. One startling opportunity lost is the case of Brittany, an activist who was arrested for being part of a group who drags an innocent motorist out of a car. Suddenly the loud-mouthed protester is worried about having a felony on her record. The closing titles inform us that Brittany wasn't charged with the felony but we would have liked to have known more about her case and why the charges were ultimately dropped or reduced.
Instinctively, the powers that be sensed that instead of coming down too hard on the protesters, they would let them blow off steam. It was no accident that the majority of the protesters were young people and a lot of this adolescent rage was in a sense a rite of passage fueled by the marginalized position they found themselves inbut in addition to this natural inclination to rebel against their elders (and authority in general), there is also the reality of years of economic discrimination that the black community has suffered from, preventing many from moving up to middle-class solvency.
Did the young protesters really accomplish their ultimate aim? (the redistribution of wealth in our society). The answer is no as that is only a pipe dream of adolescence. Older people invariably will intone "change is slow"and that is the reality of the world as it's always been.
I came here to read about and review this documentary after viewing. I
was so moved by it that I am leaving my first review of anything.
Then I read the last two reviews, both posted on November 16, 2017. Neither are reviews of the documentary but attacks on Mike Brown. I won't get into how I grew up within 10 miles in of Ferguson or about how I've lived in St. Louis for 50. How I know that, even though I'm a white woman, racism is alive and well in St. Louis. This documentary was a very accurate portrayal of what the reality is for black people (and other POC) in St. Louis. I've witnessed it over and over again.
The documentary was very well done. It was straight forward and real. Everybody should watch it.
Really shows the perspective of some local activists living in Ferguson
of what the Mike Brown protests were all about. There is not huge
detail into the Mike Brown shooting. It's more about raw footage of
street protests, police reactions, some town halls, and so on. It
really shows how the protesters were not armed and were faced with a
much more weaponized police response. The police clearly are not a part
of the community and one wonders why the officers appear so alien from
the people they are policing. The police are portrayed as a failed
institution. There are some brief news clips interspersed in. Most of
it is just amateur video on the streets. There is a glimpse into the
personal life of some of the activists.
At one point, one of the activists said that you can burn down a convenience store yet it can be rebuilt, however all the magicians in the world can't bring back a dead person. Therefore, the real question of violence should be: was anyone hurt? This encapsulates the overall theme of the documentary which is that people come before everything. Clearly the Mike Brown killing became a rallying point but he was also a symbol for much deeper grievances, which is the community didn't feel the police force treated them as people. You won't hear much from the other side in this documentary but it doesn't pretend to be that.
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