It’s almost difficult to believe that it has been three years since Michael Brown was shot and killed. The uprising that followed opened the eyes of people worldwide to the realities of racism, and Whose Streets? documents these events as they happened.
With the increasingly controversial discourse around the politics of Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit, there may not be a better film to follow its release than Whose Streets? Where Detroit failed at demonstrating the power of a protest movement against police brutality, Whose Streets? tells the story of a highly militarized police force acting against American citizens and being protected by a corrupt justice system.
The film brings together a media narrative that went from the murder of Michael Brown through to the grand jury decision to exonerate his killer. But it adds in information that we didn’t have before. It shows how the media characterization of the protests as riots ignored the instigation of violence from the police. It shows the candlelight vigils and crying families. It shows the organized and thoughtful resistance to a media narrative that wanted to dismiss the concerns of an oppressed population.
Much of the footage used comes directly from the social media videos of the Ferguson, Mo., protestors and is interspersed with the lives of specific members of the movement. Over and over we hear how this was not an isolated incident and how the police in Ferguson (and the rest of the United States) have a history of terrorizing black Americans. One particularly poignant moment happens at a city council meeting. A white resident speaks of how he bought guns for his house out of fear of the encroaching riots. A black resident responds saying some residents have been scared for two months, while others have been scared for two decades.
Whose Streets? is a powerful and necessary documentary that reminds us of one of the flash points that brought us to where we are today, and the fact that it is so necessary means we still have a lot of work to do. Don’t spend money seeing Detroit, go out of your way and find Whose Streets? in the theater instead.