Film Review: ‘Do Not Resist’ Paints a Sobering Portrait of Modern Law Enforcement

donotresistCraig Atkinson‘s debut feature “Do Not Resist” opens with scenes which have become all too familiar. A group of protesters take to the streets to march against the latest incident of police brutality. A young black man has been unjustly killed, leaving many to wonder how it happened and whether justice can be truly served in today’s flawed society. Through this enlightening documentary, Atkinson attempts to answer these questions, putting the potential threat of America as a police state into sharp relief.

The protest at the beginning of the film is none other than that of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. It is a peaceful protest, but the anger is palpable. And that anger soon escalates as the local police instigates the frustrated crowd with tear gas and other intimidating tactics. It’s a sobering image that has become unfortunately commonplace across America. And from this starting point, Atkinson thereafter delves into the reasons behind this aggressive behavior. From the training methods, to the unchecked militarization of small-town police, to the computerized future of law enforcement, the picture he paints is certainly not pretty.

Indeed, Atkinson’s introduction is downright distressing. With the aid of remarkable on-the-ground footage from the streets of Ferguson, he succinctly captures the problem at hand. The images seem taken out of an intense, covert operation like that in “Zero Dark Thirty” rather than a local incident. SWAT teams and army tanks roam the streets, as a general disregard for the value of these lives is apparent. The tension in the atmosphere is undeniably thick.

As the film subsequently branches off into discussions of the other factors promoting the rise of the police state, Atkinson admittedly loses some of the urgency of those vivid opening scenes. Still, there’s power in how the film explores the warped psychology behind modern law enforcement (training seminars promote “superior violence”), the underlying prejudice behind targeted aggression in drug raids, and the ongoing political struggle against excessive use of military grade equipment in small town police departments. Most shocking, however, is the outlook for the future. In an enlightening concluding segment, technology is demonstrated which identifies criminals before they even commit the crime (with race being a predictive factor).

Overall, Atkinson casts a wide net in trying to get to the heart of the problem at hand. At a scant 72 minutes however, the film feels like more of an overview than a thorough investigation. But ultimately, the issues he brings forth provide significant food for thought in the ongoing crisis, making “Do Not Resist” one of the most relevant and valuable documentaries of the year.

“Do Not Resist” opens in select theaters Sept. 30.

GRADE: (★★★)