"We don't do this because we hate the police. We do this because we love each other. And love always wins."
Documentaries are, in a way, like a peaceful protest: shots in the dark that aim to get a tough but important message across. Whose Streets?-an unflinching tale told from the ground zero vantage point of the Ferguson protests and riots-is designed not to change your mind, yet ease the mind of so many hurt by that painful period in St. Louis history.
When police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown Jr. in the streets in, something that had been boiling for years, decades perhaps, was set off, and a line was drawn between the protesting civilians in Ferguson and the police force. It wasn't just the fact that a seemingly innocent young man with his hands up was shot ten times and left in the street for over four hours while cops figured out how to handle a suddenly hot situation. The reaction of the cops and the reaction from the community stung by an injustice is the basis of directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis' film.
Without completely dunking your head in the water of its point of view, Folayan and Davis demand that you hear their story, presenting an angle that many never got years ago. Whose Streets? takes you to the front line of the protests, riots, and the ensuing violence that played out over several weeks in a city that I grew up in and currently call home.
That's right, if you were a St. Louis local, you were a part of this story and its scope. Zip codes and city limits didn't restrict the reach. But here's the thing: up until the moment I hit play on this documentary, I had only heard news reports, read the articles from the reporters, and saw some footage. I saw the edited and clip version of the events, so this doc was an eye opening experience. It's not just a couple people screaming in your ear about freedom and its cost, but an entire community that used love as their sharpest weapon in a turbulent time.
No matter which side you fall on the debate centering around the amount of wrong doing involved in the shooting, the reaction of the police was extreme. It is during this documentary that you see the police bringing out tear gas and riot gear before a single paint of glass was broken in any stores. It is here that you see the rigid idea of policing that the officers in Ferguson took to contain the riots once they broke out. There are moments in this film where you see cops invent new laws amid the chaos.
Now remember, I am not slamming all cops or saying everybody in Ferguson committed lawful acts during this painful time. Human beings are simply not perfect and capable of madness, but the recklessness didn't lay on just one side. The problem with documentaries like Whose Streets? is their ability to transcend and break the double standards and bias complacence held so tight by so many.
Some are going to avoid this film because they think all the answers have been found and all the angles were presented. They are wrong. Some will go into it with a pre-existing notion of the events and won't move on their stance. That isn't the way to be. Please, go into this film with an open mind, like a jury member sitting in on an important trial that could stir the future of American society.
At the heart of this tale are a rage against the devil of racism, the depravity of injustice, and the probability of circumstances changing in the future if this were to happen again. Oh wait, there are protests and violent acts going on in Charlottesville right now.
Near the end of the film, a group of people simply stand together and speak loudly about using one individual voice to make a change. "We are winning. These are our streets. They were built on the back of our ancestors as long as we want to. We will stay in the streets until we are all equal," says a woman who could move ships with her words.
It is also our duty as people and moviegoers to walk into every movie and documentary with an open mind so we can see what's there under the surface. Something that may not have been as easy to detect the first time, but won't escape us a second time. If you still leave with the same thought process as you took going in, so be it. But give it the time.
Whose Streets? demands your attention with its informative and unflinching look at a complex event. It doesn't waver in its stance and is quite persuasive in its storytelling tactics, but it does not lie. It's the truth.
Go check it out.