Whose Streets? is a documentary about the events that unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri after the police shot and killed Michael Brown. Brown was an unarmed teenager, but he was African American, and thus was nine times more likely to be killed by the police than other Americans, according to The Guardian.
Directed by Sabaah Folayan and produced by Damon Davis, Whose Streets? interviews community organizers and activists, and to a certain extent tells the Black Lives Matter story, but footage shot inside Ferguson illuminates the disparity between the media narrative and the actual experiences of the residents of the city. Whose Streets? is not a part of the lingering narratives of dangerous black folks-it is not a story shaped with coded language or slanted footage. It is, said activist Diallo Sekou in an email to Folio Weekly, "a moment in time that the black community is so familiar with, [the] militarization of the police [and] their entire approach because deep down they knew the officer was wrong."
In concert with the opening night screening at Sun-Ray Cinema, a panel discussion is being held to garner a local perspective. Guests include Sekou, former Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre, and associate professor of english and director of African-American/African Diaspora studies at the University of North Florida, Dr. Tru Leverette; with moderater Shelton Hull, a FW contributor.
FW asked participants via email to share their perspective about some of the issues the movie directly and tangentially touches on. When asked how he plans to navigate the discussion, Hull said, "I plan to use it as a springboard for a broader discussion of how this issue has evolved in the years since, and how it relates specifically to Northeast Florida." As to his opinions, Hull demurred, "My own views are not relevant to the discussion; my goal is to facilitate dialogue, and hopefully let the attendees express themselves and get the information they need to act on their own, as they see fit, down the road."
Leverette weighed in on ways in which the reframing of discourse around protests-away from the language of looting and towards the language of equity-can affect change, "Seeing protests against state-sponsored murder as necessary efforts toward social justice helps the public understand the challenges faced by oppressed communities and, ideally, brings others to the cause of challenging institutionalized oppression. How a reframed narrative changes the state depends, though. Changing the state has much to do with who hears the narrative, who actually listens, and who has the power to move the activism forward to institutional change."
Leverette also addressed how to harness the energy and visibility generated by publicity and this movie. "While maintaining awareness of people's lived experiences of inequity, we must move toward concrete goals and always celebrate the victories. We also need to be clear about what steps will bring us closer to justice and to consistently move toward the realization of that outcome without becoming distracted or discouraged. The shape or form of that change will be whatever moves us farther along the path toward justice in any given circumstance."
In conversations about the violent intersection of policing entities and activists and protestors, the police often seek to blame-shift and equivocate. Panelist Manfre has been lauded for his professionalism and excellence. He also spent four years as an investigator and trial assistant for the Bronx and King Counties and then time as assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, New York. When asked about the manner in which the police handled the unrest in Ferguson versus the manner in which the armed domestic terrorists were allowed to march through the streets in Charlottesville, he said, "As a sheriff [the sheriff of Flagler County] at the time of Ferguson, I was disturbed by the immediate military style response of law enforcement. It was clear that the presence of military vehicles and automatic weapons were an incitement to the neighborhood. The absence of the chief of police meeting with the protesters or its leaders only exacerbated the 'us versus them' atmosphere.... In Charlottesville, the police did stand down rather than provoke, but their decision not to properly separate the two sides led to unnecessary violence."
During the panel Manfre hopes to emphasize the "importance of community policing which trains law enforcement to treat the public as if they were customers rather than potential law violators. Also the mandatory de-escalation training of all employees is essential."
What happened in Ferguson is about more than Brown's murder, it is about a system that sends tanks to deal with black civilians, but finds ways to talk down armed white domestic terrorist groups. Since 1619, when the first enslaved people were brought to Jamestown, Virginia, the language and ideas around slavery have been deliberately manipulated to encode into the populace the idea that certain groups of human are inherently dangerous. This allowed for the dominant group to act with impunity against enslaved or non-white people, and 398 years later that is often still the case systemically and individually.
As Sekou summarized, "[For] 120 years an entire state, legislative body was creating ways to destroy and oppress my people; 88 years of Jim Crow laws which enacted laws against my people ... only 52 years of Civil Rights, no one can deny the numbers, because numbers don't lie. People do."