SXSW Film review: ‘Peace Officer’ raises plenty of questions

A scene from "Peace Officer," which explores the militarization of law enforcement.
A scene from “Peace Officer,” which explores the militarization of law enforcement.


Frightening. With the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, directors Scott Christopherson’s and Brad Barber’s first full-length documentary “Peace Officer” has the potential to be one of the most pertinent films of the year.

It looks at the militarization of law enforcement, primarily in Utah, but on a larger scale it examines through heartbreaking case studies the shifting relationship “peace officers” have assumed with the citizens they have sworn to protect and serve.

At the center of the study is Dub Lawrence, a former sheriff who witnessed a SWAT team he helped create in the 1970s kill his son-in-law three decades later. SWAT was initially created in response to the Watts Riots of 1965, but soon after became the enforcement arm of President Nixon’s and then President Reagan’s War On Drugs.

It’s no secret that our dynamic relationship with police demands a national conversation; some poor, blue-collar, black and Latino communities have been having that conversation sometimes peacefully and sometimes not since this country’s inception.

But no longer is it just the marginalized and minority communities affected by unnecessary police violence, as the film shows. “Peace Officer” asks, ‘Why is the military industrial complex giving local law enforcement tactical gear and weapons, how do these operations turn into unstoppable machines and are busts more important than lives?”

“Peace Officer” is important for so many reasons. A handful of dedicated citizens and a few filmmakers are speaking truth to power. As an officer explains in the documentary, “sometimes peace is purchased with violence.” Unfortunately, what we are seeing is that goes both ways.

You can see “Peace Officer at 1:15 p.m. Friday at the Topfer.


Author: Charles Ealy

Charles Ealy edits and writes about books and movies for the Ausstin American-Statesman.

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