A scene from Do Not Resist (Vanish Films)

A scene from Do Not Resist (Vanish Films)

We’ve come a long way from Barney Fife. Instead of humble public servants, many American law enforcement officers nowadays look a lot more like an occupying army, complete with tanks, body armor, and siege tactics. This new documentary brings viewers inside this troubling, uniquely American trend. The film could not be timelier, and it offers answers to one of the most vital questions of our time—why are citizens being treated like enemy combatants?

It provides sobering insight into how this militarization propagates itself; its roots in training and mindset; and the effects of this warrior mentality on the communities police are meant to serve. Director Craig Atkinson had unprecedented access to aspects of the militarization of police: he brings us on military-style raids of suspected drug dealers, to the front lines of riot control in Ferguson, MO and Baltimore; and inside a conference led by Dave Grossman, one of the most influential police trainers in the country.

Early on, Grossman tells a room full of trainees that violent encounters with suspects will lead to the best sex of their lives. He also makes full use of cowboy imagery in his seminar. With the toxic, hyper-confrontational warrior mentality Grossman pours into the minds of trainees nationwide, it’s no surprise that we can barely go a week without a new unjustified shooting by cop.

Perhaps the most memorable moment is a raid on a home in South Carolina. SWAT tactics and military-grade hardware are deployed on a peaceful, unsuspecting black family because one of its members, a father of a young child, is suspected of selling marijuana. After ransacking the residence, they find a tiny bag of weed in the bottom of a book bag, not even enough to rise above the level of personal use. During this raid, when we see windows unnecessarily smashed and all the cash the young man has on hand seized, it couldn’t be clearer who here is dangerous.

The law enforcement officials Atkinson documents granted him full, unfettered access to their most intimate of operations, and it is puzzling that the police agreed to be filmed, which raises the unsettling prospect that they actually aren’t aware of how they come across. Where we see bullying and intimidation, they see a job well done, and this inability to objectively view their actions is arguably at the root of the ever-expanding tensions between police and citizenry.

There has been some pushback against these ominous trends, and the film features scenes of private citizens and members of Congress doing their level best to get this beast under control. We’re taken inside the city council of a sleepy, tiny New Hampshire town, where the decision is being weighed to acquire a massive military tank for local police use. Brave citizens urge the council to recognize that this is an unnecessary acquisition. Unsurprisingly, this plea falls on deaf ears.

Unlike most documentaries, Do Not Resist does not have a narrator tying everything together. Instead, it is a collection of encounters between police and citizens in which we don’t really need anyone to explain what is happening or to create a narrative. This vital film portends a dystopian future for us all, if decisive action is not undertaken to correct the course of those who are ostensibly sworn to protect and serve us.

Produced and Directed by Craig Atkinson
Released by Vanish Films
USA. 72 min. Not rated