As part of Take One Action’s Glasgow and Edinburgh Film Festival, the CCA ran the Scottish premiere of WHOSE STREETS?, an in depth documentation of the Black Lives Matter campaign in Ferguson, Missouri.
The protests began in 2014, following the murder of a Mike Brown, a young, unarmed, black male by Darren Wilson, a white police officer and what started out as a peaceful march for justice, quickly escalated into a war between the Ferguson police department, and the mourning protestors. Militant style lockdown fell upon the citizens of Ferguson with armed forces using tear gas and rubber bullets regularly upon unarmed protestors.
However, this was never broadcasted across the mass media; what was broadcasted was the looting of local shops, the vandalism of cars, fires started in empty buildings, and most importantly, the Ferguson police departments’ efforts to stop the citizens responsible for this violent revolt, and make their hometown safe again. WHOSE STREETS? not only brings into question the medias role in facilitating the ongoing discrimination of African Americans at the hands of the justice system, but also gives insight to what happens when the cameras are made to face the other way.
The most thought-provoking moment in the film occurred through controversial clips of extreme looting, dangerous driving, and the burning and vandalism of local buildings by protestors. The activists on-screen blame the violent actions as an aggressive response to the intimidation tactics used by Ferguson police officers. Whilst the destruction of properties and local businesses was a blatant contradiction of a ‘peaceful protest’ and most definitely intensified the tension between the warring parties, one activist drew attention to a harsh reality of the full situation: the vandalism of an inanimate object interested the police and media, more than the murder of Mike Brown.
The reality of how insignificant a black man’s life was to the police department of Ferguson hit hard; this wasn’t just a murder, as director Sabaah Folayan says, this was ‘a modern day lynching’. From that moment on it was hard not to see the blatant ignorance of a racially biased military organisation, one that had murdered, and moved on without reprieve and had expected everyone else to do the same. Clips of white police officials mocking and taunting black activists moved members of the audience to cry out “MOTHERF**KERS”, or laugh hysterically at. Whilst the documentary followed the despair and anger of yet another racially-motivated murder, it also shone light on the resilience of the protestors, the hope for justice, the exhaustion of the African American race at the hands of a white supremacist society, and the strength and determination to change that.
The films leading female activist Brittany Ferrell stayed for a commendable Q&A afterwards. Upon being asked, “What can we do?” from an audience member, Brittany put it straight to us: we need to “plug up” social media; we need to stop looking the other way; we need to get involved in our communities; we need to spread the word; we need to donate, march, fundraise… We need to stand for something because these streets are OUR streets.