After watching Whose Streets? I had to refamiliarize myself with the horrific timeline of police brutality that has taken the lives of so many young black men in recent years. The death of Michael Brown in 2014 and the subsequent protests in Ferguson felt like the beginning of what has become the broader Black Lives Matter movement. But go back to 2012 and I was reminded of Trayvon Martin. Progress is slow, and any inroads that may have been made seem hopelessly inconsequential. As one subject in Whose Streets? states, “I don’t know what year it is, but it definitely isn’t 2014.” It’s always one step forward, two steps back. It will take years, possibly a generation to heal the wounds, and regardless of what year it is, Whose Streets? exists as a document of the tireless social activists and protesters who are determined to finally see racial equality in this country.
Whose Streets? is a documentary about the murder of Michael Brown and the community that banded together to both mourn his loss and send a message to the world that such violence is not acceptable. It is slightly different than similar documentaries due to its focus of the portrayal of black people in the media. The Brown murder was a significant turning point in this realization of racial bias in the news media. A young, unarmed, and college-bound man is gunned down by a police officer who is only trying to protect himself from a thug. In the only image you see of Michael Brown in the film, he is wearing his high school graduation cap and gown. It’s how his family remembers him, and how his community will fight for the future portrayal of the victims of police brutality.
The directors of this film, Sabaah Foyalan and Damon Davis are both activist themselves, and made sure the focus of this film extended beyond the discussion of racial equality to the simple right to life. Regardless of whether or not Michael Brown was headed to college, he deserved to be alive. His life is worth the same as any other citizen in the country. The footage used in Whose Streets? reinforces that message; black people in this country are not the criminals they are made out to be and do not deserve to be shot in the street and left there for hours like animals.
The footage used in the film spans the period of time from the initial murder of Michael Brown, the protests immediately after, to a year after a grand jury did not find sufficient evidence to charge officer Darren Wilson with a crime. The filmmakers follow a few key figures in the Ferguson movement, Brittany Ferrell, David Whitt, and Kayla Reed, as they explain what drives their purpose. What emerges is a narrative that manages to portray the unique characteristics of this particular event, while tying it to the greater framework of racial issues and the future of social activism in this country.
Whose Streets? is an important documentary for people to remember that no matter who you are or where you come from, you have a right to walk down a street in your community and not be threatened with violence. It’s a raging cry for more than just equality, but for life itself. And the battle is far from over.
Whose Streets? opens today at the Ritz Bourse. See below for a schedule of screenings and special guest speakers.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.