Copwatch (2017)

Director: Camilla Hall
Part of: We Are One Film Festival
Seen on: 07.06.2020

The documentary follows the copwatch group WeCopwatch, showing how they formed and how they operate: filming police officers at work in the hopes of mitigating excessive violence or to at least document it. It includes interviews with Ramsey Orta, Kevin Moore and David Whitt.

With the Black Lives Matter protests going on, Copwatch is, of course, very topical which is why it was included in the festival on short notice. And I’m glad that it was because it shows once more that these incidents of violence and murder by police are not isolated, singular cases but they happen a lot, all over the USA and have been going for about forever.

The film poster showing the hands of a Black person raised high.

Copwatch is a three year old film and it could have just as well been shot last week or, unfortunately, probably next week. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess, and that is the real horror of it. It also shows the limits of copwatching as a practice: it doesn’t really change things on a systemic level.

But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t important, what these guys are doing. Because it is pretty clear to me that for every murder caught on tape, another two murders are actually prevented because somebody is filming. And even if only one murder ever was prevented by somebody getting out their phone, the entire thing would already be worth it.

A group of men walking through a street, two are wearing black hoodies with the slogan "We Copwatch".

It was heartbreaking and insipiring at the same time to see the men throw themselves into the cause and how much of their lives it consumes. Inspiring because of their passion and dedication, heartbreaking because imagine what else they could be doing with their lives if the cops just didn’t murder folk. The film also shows clearly how much pressure is exerted on the activists. Most notably the consequences Orta had to face that were so clearly retaliatory.

Hall captures all of that in a film that is close to the action and communicates the tense atmosphere between activists and police. It’s not surprising that the ongoing protests don’t abate, after years and decades of this stuff without any meaningful change in the system.

Adriel Gonzalez filming with his cellphone.

Summarizing: Important. Watch it.

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