November 16, 2017 – This documentary is about the political aftermath of the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson Missouri. It isn't about the shooting itself, but the reaction to it. The death of Michael Brown was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
This documentary is patched together from a wide variety of video sources, combined with interviews of those directly involved. Quite a lot of the video in this film was shot by participants in the related political unrest, using smartphones and personal video cameras. Some of it comes from YouTube. The result is a documentary from the point of view of participants at ground level. It is raw and it is filled with anger.
Michael Brown, 18, was shot and killed by Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. While there are various accounts of how this happened, the story on the streets was that Brown had his hands up when the fatal shot was fired. It wasn't the first time an unarmed black man had been shot and killed by police in Ferguson, or in cities like it around America. It was an old story, and people had reached their limit. They were not going to take it any more. Ferguson erupted in protest by angry blacks.
The narrative in this film is that the protests were peaceful at first, but police overreacted with a military-style response, resulting in a riot. Clips from national newscasts focused on the looting and burning of property. People said the blacks were destroying their own neighborhoods. It was stupid. The film depicts a different narrative, that of a revolution against oppression that goes all the way back to slavery.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, which had begun in 2013 with the unpunished killing of another unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, in Florida, but it gained national exposure with the street demonstrations in Ferguson, and with the demonstrations against the killing of another unarmed black man, Eric Garner, by police in New York City earlier that same year.
As a result of the turmoil, Attorney General Eric Holder of the Obama Administration in Washington, authorized an investigation of the Ferguson Police Department and local courts. The investigation uncovered a pattern of discrimination against blacks. Essentially, the city was harassing blacks and using the court system to collect millions of dollars from them in fines. After the report, the city allegedly continued to violate the constitutional rights of blacks and was sued in 2016 by the Department of Justice for violating the civil rights of blacks.
By 2016, the Department of Justice (DOJ) had launched 67 civil rights investigations into the civil rights practices of U.S. police departments. In 2017, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been accused of being racist, has indicated a willingness to walk back that policy and even abandon some civil rights consent decrees already agreed to by some police departments. The Trump Administration has made significant cuts to the DOJ's Civil Rights Department. At risk are enforcement of civil rights, voting rights and equal education rights. Trump and Sessions opponents anticipate a greatly reduced level of civil rights enforcement efforts by the DOJ.
The view of this film is narrowly pro-revolutionary. It leaves out the results of the 2016 presidential election, the results of which threatens a reversal of many civil rights gains in recent years. It also mostly leaves out the impact of white media figures like those on Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and others who paint a very different, negative picture of black activists. The white supremacist narrative is that blacks have too much power, that whites are being discriminated against, and that the BLM movement is a racist idea, implying that white lives don't matter.
While BLM activists were active in the 2016 presidential election, black voter turnout was down in 2016, while white voter participation increased, resulting in a narrow victory for Donald Trump. That negates any gains by black activists up to that election. Recent elections seem to indicate that blacks may again be active, now that Donald Trump's real agenda has become more obvious.
“Whose Streets?” is a film that celebrates black power. Maybe that will help inspire black activists in the future. What is left out of that message, however, is that spontaneous demonstrations, and memorials to slain victims are no substitute for sustained political pressure, consistent voting and continuous community activism working towards improving equal treatment and safe living conditions for people. This film rates a C+.
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