If you noticed your screening of “Straight Outta Compton” erupted in nervous laughter at the sight of a military-grade tank rolling down the streets of Los Angeles like it were Baghdad, then you need to add “Peace Officer” to your watchlist immediately. Brad Barber and Scott Christopherson’s documentary tackles the troubling trend towards aggression in the American police state, surveying the human cost of their violence.
For an initial briefing for how this state of affairs came to be the norm, preface the film with John Oliver’s superb segment on police militarization. But unlike Ferguson, an area that is majority minority, the rural Davis County, Utah, in “Peace Officer” appears primarily white. Separated from racial rhetoric, the issue of police brutality comes into an even starker light as its own problem in need of instant remedy.
Officers should serve and protect a people, not occupy or terrorize them. This simple distinction is the message of the film’s subject, Dub Lawrence. He founded his county’s SWAT Team but now stops at nothing to see the unit held accountable for taking the life of his son-in-law, among others. The case of that family members makes up the backbone of “Peace Officer,” but Barber and Christopherson make sure to include countless other stories of families brutalized by the police and forced to comply with whatever force they mete out. Oh, and they also intercut with the tone-deaf responses given in interviews by local officials, who of course find it ludicrous to say the police has come to resemble the military.
Lawrence identifies the larger issue at play here as one of civil rights. How can we have an equal society when the law’s permissiveness essentially allows one group can act essentially without risk of repercussion? The question is one every American needs to ponder because the next victim could be someone you know – or you.
“Peace Officer” is hopefully the closest thing the United States could ever produce to an equivalent of “The Act of Killing,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s frightening documentary exposé on the effects of impunity in Indonesian society. But if we continue on our current course, future films will make it look tame by comparison. B+ /