At this time in history, both politically and socially, we ask ourselves, “Where has America gone?” Perhaps a better question to ask is, “Where is America going?” Craig Atkinson, in his newest documentary “Do Not Resist,” gives us a glimpse into the answer to this question as he addresses the topic of violence not just in the United States as a whole, but in our small communities that comprise our country. In a factual and seemingly unbiased portrayal, “Do Not Resist” takes us across the country documenting the militarization of our police forces while giving insight to our needs and fears. It’s exactly the catalyst we need to start a conversation, identify problems, and come up with better solutions.
I had the opportunity to talk with Atkinson, a son of a former police officer, who shared with me his journey and hopes for future changes in how we respond to crime and violence.
Two years ago, Atkinson noted the escalation in the protests in Ferguson, MO and filmed the fateful day as an outside observer, forever documenting the fear, anger, and frustration from both the protestors and the police officers. “Do Not Resist” takes us on this informative and eye-opening journey from Missouri to ride-alongs in South Carolina with the SWAT team, listening to community meetings in Concord, NH, and Congressional hearings about military surplus purchases. Atkinson skillfully gleans and shares information in a non-sensationalized way, giving the viewer a neutral viewpoint about police responses in our communities and the possible future of law enforcement.
When asked specifically about the ride alongs with the SWAT team, Atkinson shared that since the advent of shows like “Cops” in 1989, film crews tagging along to document their work was a rather common occurrence. Capturing startling experiences seems to be quite common from the SWAT team’s perspective, although from the viewer’s point of view, it’s devastating. Atkinson recalls his father’s era of police work only utilizing SWAT team responses in extreme cases…today that seems to be a different story. The film highlights the aftermath of an erroneous response and then delves into the use of drones and taking human error and judgment out of the equation. The rabbit hole of combating crime that we are falling into is nothing short of shocking.
Shocking is just one word that describes what we learn in this film. In discussing the use of military MRAP vehicles, Atkinson saw the use of this first-hand in the Boston Marathon Bombing. While he readily supported the need for this in some situations, small towns like Concord, NH with a murder rate of 2, isn’t one of them. Atkinson was emotionally struck by the testimony he witnessed at a town meeting where community members expressed reasons to not take “free money” and purchase an MRAP vehicle. Atkinson professed admiration for those that spoke up, trying to make a difference and failing in their town’s vote. Referring to a teacher’s plea to the town’s trustees, he said, “..her testimony is still being heard three years later…” in the film and the trailer. Her voice was not lost.
Atkinson looks more deeply into the recent increase in police shootings and has found that the trainining our officers receive may have a significant impact on recent events. Dave Grossman, a retired lieutenant colonel who trains thousands of officers each year about fighting violence with greater violence, glorifies this technique. Atkinson shared that police departments in NYC and Dallas have seen this film and attempt to “…distance themselves from Grossman’s training.” Atkinson wondered if some of the shootings could have been averted with a different training system.
“Do Not Cross” creates an opportunity to question our current system and discuss other options for solutions regarding violence and police reaction. Atkinson hopes that his film can open the eyes of not only the public, but those responsible for enforcing the law. The future roads for increasing safety, and decreasing violence and police brutality are being paved as we speak. The direction we are headed brings to mind images of a war zone and a lack of safety and peace. Together we can pave a more peaceful road. Be sure to check out “Do Not Resist” and ask those questions that matter to our future.
“Do Not Resist” will be playing at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Gene Siskel Film Center. Atkinson will be on hand to answer questions after the Siskel screening on Saturday, November 5. Go to www.siskelfilmcenter.org for more information.