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‘Do Not Resist’ Is an Eye-Opening Experience

Imagine standing on the street when an armored vehicle rolls by you, and men in armor are leaning out holding military-grade rifles in their hands. Now, I’m guessing you are imagining that this image is taking place somewhere in the Middle East, but unfortunately, what I am describing to you is not Iraq or Afghanistan; I am talking about the cities—and in some cases, rural towns—of the United States.

In the documentary “Do Not Resist,” director Craig Atkinson shows the shocking truth about police militarization. The documentary not only covers incidents like Ferguson, but also the process of how law enforcement agencies get their military-like equipment, in some cases for free. 

The documentary, which came out in 2016, is now playing at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts until Nov. 26. While I was previously aware of the issue, I realized while watching the documentary that police militarization is much more widespread than I thought. The documentary is 72 minutes long and won the award for Best Documentary Feature in the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

A Ferguson, Missouri resident told Atkinson that the government needs to “stop giving these boys these toys because they don’t know how to handle it.”

Unfortunately, in some cases this comment is all too true. While the topic was brought up after the Boston Marathon Manhunt, the conversation expanded nationally after Ferguson. The closer the topic is looked at, the more certain police departments start to look less and less like a city or town service, and more and more like a small military detachment.

Through the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, various agencies have been able to get ex-military items for little to no cost. While most departments get boots, repair tools, spare vehicle parts, and even toilet paper, others have cashed in and gotten rifles, armored trucks, and, in some cases, helicopters.

Other departments have benefited from grants given by the Department of Homeland Security. One such department is that of Concord, New Hampshire, which has used a grant to buy a brand new $250,000 armored vehicle made by Lenco Armored Vehicles of Pittsfield, MA. In the case of Concord, residents argued against buying the Lenco Bearcat, including former military servicemen who commented that this is the United States and not Fallujah, Iraq.

There is also very little oversight for the program. The program maintains that departments are only allowed to get one ex-military armored vehicle per department; some departments, like one mentioned in “Do Not Resist,” are able to get two.

But Atkinson’s findings are not limited to money and gadgets. Private companies have sprung up all around the United States which benefit from law enforcement armoring up. While we do not have Reaper drones flying over our heads, private companies, including Private Surveillance Systems, are now providing airplanes that have high definition cameras and do the same job as drones, but with only slightly inferior definition.

Perhaps the most niche new industry involves speakers like Dave Grossman, who acts as something like an inspirational speaker. Grossman has been described as an expert in killology, which is the scientific study of killing. In one of his talks, Grossman aimed at law enforcement, noting, “You fight violence with superior violence, righteous violence.”

Atkinson’s documentary highlights departments’ use of guns and armored toys in conducting raids that conclude in little to no findings. For Atkinson, the topic is personal, as Atkinson’s father was part of Detroit Police Department’s SWAT team from 1989-2002. Atkinson noted that when his father was working, the team did 29 operations in the 13 years. On the film’s website, Atkinson comments, “Compare that to today, when departments of a similar size we filmed conducted more than 200 [operations] a year.”

For anyone who has the opportunity to watch this documentary, it is an eye-opening experience portraying the full extent of the issue.