Police brutality is nothing new, but social media added a new layer of exposure to the countless Black and Latin Americans who are assaulted by cops and sometimes killed. A film like Copwatch is not only timely, but important.
Directed by Los Angeles-based Camilla Hall, the documentary follows the organization WeCopwatch, which is a group of diverse people who film police brutality. They sacrifice their lives to capture assault on camera, which often saves, or at least exonerates, the victims. The doc tells the story behind the activists, their personal experiences with police brutality and why they remain so passionate, even when their freedom is at risk.
Copwatch begins with the murder of Eric Garner, who was strangled to death on July 17, 2014. Garner saying "I can't breathe" was caught on camera by Ramsey Orta, who has been a target of the NYPD ever since. Having a criminal record of his own doesn't help as we see his countless court cases and fear of being incarcerated. There is also Kevin Moore, who filmed 25-year-old Freddie Gray being arrested in Baltimore on April 12, 2015. After he was thrown in the back of a police van, Gray fell into a coma and died. Moore thought he would be called to testify, but he wasn’t. The cops in both Gray and Garner’s murders were exonerated. Copwatch also highlights a collective of activists in New York City who fearlessly capture cops on camera.
From a storytelling perspective, Copwatch struggles with fleshing out the dynamic people we meet on screen. Structurally, the film is disjointed at times, bouncing from scene to scene. However, even with the flaws, it is the intent of Copwatch that is sincere. The doc in itself is activism. The director clearly wants to spread the word about the injustices people of color are facing across the country, which is admirable.
Copwatch is available on Video On Demand on October 6th.
Watch the BET News special Justice for Ferguson, above.