'Police Should Be Held To A Higher Standard That Anyone Else' Why The New Doc On The Black Liberation Movement Matters
The Debrief: A new BBC Three documentary sheds light on the armed militias fighting back against police brutality in the US
For the last two years, relationships between the black community in the United States and the police force have been, to put it mildly, strained.
The shooting of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri by a white police officer kickstarted riots across the country and brought an issue that had been bubbling under the surface for many years, to a head.
Since then, the situation has exacerbated. If you‘ve been anywhere close to a mobile phone with internet connection in the past two years then you’ve almost certainly seen some of the homemade footage of black men and women being manhandled, detained and, in many cases, shot and killed by members of the police force.
The numbers speak for themselves. In 2015 alone, 102 unarmed young black men were killed by the police. In 2015, not one police officer was convicted for murder.
Now, small groups of armed black militias are coming together in some of the worst affected areas taking to the streets to protect their local communities. Documentary maker Dan Murdoch (he made that Ku Klux Klan documentary last year) has been to meet them and found groups of people at the end of their tether with nowhere to turn.
‘Once the Klan have bought into you and the Imperial Wizard has given you the thumbs up, you feel safe around them.’ Says Dan referring to his previous trip to the US where he hung out with the Ku Klux Klan. Compared to the jeopardy felt by the black community in problem areas like Dallas and Charleston though, it’s another story. ‘These folks genuinely feel threatened for good reason. We’ll walk around town and they’re go "that’s where this guy got shot by the cops, that’s where I got the gun pulled on me…"’
During his time in the US, Dan hung out with various militia groups including the South Carolina Red Black Green (situated in Charleston – the location of the Dylann Roof shooting last year) and the Huey P. Newton Gun Club in Dallas, Texas. The militias are a newer arm of the Black Liberation Movement. ‘It’s a blanket term for the black civil rights movements that have sprung up in the last few years.' Dan says, by way of explanation. It probably includes Black Lives Matter too although Dan says that's up for debate.
Although the Black Liberation Movement itself has exploded in the last few years, it is by no means a new thing. ‘People in this community are saying “Hey, we’ve been complaining about police brutality all our lives but now the media gives a shit.” It would be disrespectful to say it’s only happened because of Ferguson and Dylann Roof.’ It is however, clear that membership has sky-rocketed in black activist groups in recent time. And, with people like Beyonce making her feelings very clear with her anti-police performance at this year’s Superbowl, it’s unlikely the media’s interest is going to dwindle anytime soon.
In the film, Dan meets LA'Shadion Anthony, a father of ten who works with a militia in Dallas where 39 people have been shot dead in the last five years by police. Riots errupted in the city after the below video of a police officer pulling a gun on teens at a pool party emerged. For LA'Shadion to drive his (very young children) around the neighbourhood they live in, he does so with a Smith and Wessson 40 glock handgun on his lap. He says he ‘it's terrible that I live in a place where I always have to be prepared to defend myself.’
It’s important to note though that, despite being heavily armed, these militias are doing good in the community too. One man, a prominent member of the South Carolina Red Black Green was met by Dan down at Tent City, a community of homeless people living rough, where he was handing out food. In the film the militias are said to help local kids get to school safely. Dan says they do food and coat handouts in the winter too. ‘The guns make great copy and get people interested’ Says Dan. ‘But they do a lot of community work too.’
Technology is changing the playing field in this battle of police versus civilian. For starters, the ability to be able to film the police’s actions and share the video with millions has meant greater awareness and is arguably the biggest reason as to why this fight is happening now. On the other side, there’s the introduction of body cameras for police, a controversial topic that is looking more and more like an answer to the problem. The thinking is that if the police’s actions and words are caught on camera then this will make them think twice before acting.
Some police have criticised the cameras. Claiming they unfairly paint them as perpetrators. Dan though, thinks that’s rubbish. ‘I don’t buy that AT ALL.’ He says firmly. ‘If you as a policeman feel victimised or intruded upon becase you’re being filmed then you’re in the wrong job. Police officers are where our civil society meets members of the public. They’re meant to be shining examples. They should be held to a higher standard. I think it’s right that we judge them differently.’
However, with reports like the recent one on Chicago police destroying their own dash cameras, it’s safe to say that not all police agree with Dan’s sentiment.
What the problem can’t be solved by though, is banning guns. For starters, some states are actually loosening (really) gun control laws. In Texas, in January, a new law was passed that meant those with conceled weapon permits were now allowed to carry their weapon in a visible position in a hip or shoulder holster and, just last month Texas A&M University allowed it’s attendees with the correct liscences to carry concealed handguns in classrooms and dorms.
And sure, public sales of guns are licenced, but private sales are not - a loophole that's exploited though gun fairs or 'Gun Shows' as they are popularly known. ‘Just like we have car boot sales on a Sunday afternoon, they have gun fairs.’ Sighs Dan. ‘People just rock on up with no checks and sell guns willy nilly as they see fit. When the law’s like that, there’s absolutely no way of stopping people getting guns into their hands.’
With 300 million privately owned guns in the US currently (there’s 319 million people living in the US) even if guns were outlawed, collecting them all up isn’t exactly feasible. ‘That ship has sailed’ Says Dan. ‘When I started going to The States to make these kind of films three or four years ago I was vehemently anti-gun. But the more time I spent over there the more I reaslied that horse has bolted. The idea that there could be some kind of amnesty where guns are handed in? That’s not going to happen. The truth is, bad people are armed in the US and if you want to stay safe you may well need to be armed yourself. Which is a sorry state of affairs.’
So what is the solution then? Is one of the prospective presidential candidates holding the key I ask Dan almost as a joke. Imaginining Donald Trump making police brutality his foremost priority is hardly likely though. Surpisingly though, a lot of the black community Dan spoke to are more right wing than you’d imagine. ‘Many people dislike Obama. He’s anti-gun!’ He says. ‘Some of these people are Republicans. They’re Southerners and they’re into gun rights and they’re into independent liberty and they’re anti-tax. They’re Libertarians! It’s a very convoluted picture.'
For Dan, the soluction lies in a more open discourse on both side. ‘Increased transparency and policing’ he says firmly. ‘This means more cameras and more people wearing cameras. Oh, and the international spotlight on the issues, that’s got to help too.’
Black Power: America’s Armed Resistance is available to watch on BBC Three now.
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Follow Jess on Twitter @Jess_Commons
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