As the news cameras left Ferguson, Missouri after the police killing of Michael Brown, Sabaah Folayan and her team stayed on to document what happens to people subjected to police violence as a matter of routine.
Laura Flanders:That's coming up. Plus an F word from me on surveillance. If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention and if you are, well the Feds know about it. It's all coming up on the Laura Flanders show. The place where the people who say it can't be done, take a back seat to the ones who are doing it.
Three years after the killing of Michael Brown by police office, Darren Wilson, in Ferguson, Missouri, the documentary "Whose Streets?", takes us back to Ferguson and the days and weeks following that event. Beyond the uprising and the clamp down, the killings and the protests, "Whose Street's?" takes viewers into the personal lives of the activists on the ground. They're young people with young families.
The documentary ends up being a lot about love in a community cornered by an increasingly militarized police. "Whose Streets?" is co-directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis. It's just now being released by Magnolia Pictures and I am very pleased to welcome Sabaah to the studio.
Glad to have you.
Sabaah Folayan:Thank you.
Laura Flanders:Remind us where you were when the news broke of what had happened to Michael Brown.
Sabaah Folayan:When I first heard, I was at work. I was on my computer and I started to see this information come through Twitter. And I saw the photograph of him on the ground and I saw the tweets of people who are out there.
Laura Flanders:And you were in New York, correct?
Sabaah Folayan:Yes, I was here in New York.
I was at a nonprofit doing reentry work so I was helping them to kind of understand how their organization was working with incarcerated people. And I heard about it through social media and it was just really triggering and then I started to see people taking to the streets. And I started to see the militarization. And it felt like a story that I somehow knew, even though I had never experienced anything like it.
Laura Flanders:Now you quote, I think, is Dr. King, "A riot is the language of the unheard." In a way, that beginning montage in your film, I couldn't help thinking sort of YouTube is the Hollywood of the unreported.
A lot of those images, I don't think most people had seen before, right?
Sabaah Folayan:Yeah. I think the media was really focused on the looting, the rioting, the what was shiny and would get rating. And people weren't really paying attention to what was actually happening to this community.
Laura Flanders:So how long did it take for you to get to Missouri?
Sabaah Folayan:I was there about a month after Mike Brown was killed. My job ended. My DP, who is a friend of mine from college, we decided to go down there together and just see how we could kind of support. So we were doing a bit of community service and documenting what we saw.
I actually wanted to do a public health study. I was a premed student at the time, as well. And I wanted to show that people facing off with police was gonna have a traumatic effect on this community. You couldn't really do that kind of research in that environment and I learned that really quickly.
So, we just started rolling and asking questions.
Laura Flanders:But you did decide very much to focus on families and the effect on families. I was struck. I mean, maybe I had missed how young everybody was. What ages are the people that you focus on most? Britney Ferrell, just to name one.
Sabaah Folayan:Britney is, I believe at the time this was happening, she was 26. David is a bit older, about 30. Very, very young people with young families.
Laura Flanders:And as you got to know them, was there a moment where you had to decided like, "Where do I put the personal in this political story? Where do I put the activist in this police story?" How you do the balance?
Sabaah Folayan:Yeah. That was tough. So we started out before the ... About a year ago, actually in August, we had a 90 minute cut of the film and there was none of the protests. None of the news footage. It was only people and their families. And there were seven different people that we had followed in depth and so each of them kind of had a moment in the film. And it was just about teasing out the cause and effect relationships between what was going on in the streets and what was happening inside of peoples homes.
Laura Flanders:So, that must have been torturous. Getting rid of five people's stories.
Sabaah Folayan:Yeah. It was really tough and we never wanted to tell this as a kind of Messiah story. It's not about one hero that comes and galvanizes everyone. It really was always meant to be about a community of ordinary people coming together.
Laura Flanders:Now, we'll get back to more of the community part and the love stories, which I really ... Came across really strongly, but you also do a lot of reporting. I mean, there are facts in this stories that come out in your film that I don't think are widely known. One, the very beginning. Your character, David, who's involved in Cop Watch, points out that there was cameras on the street on the scene where the killing happened, were Darren Wilson killed Michael Brown. Have we ever seen that footage?
Sabaah Folayan:I have not been able to get access to that footage, but actually a good friend of mine, Lyric Cabral who made a wonderful documentary called "Terror" is working on another film and ... About the community and what actually happened more on that day.
Laura Flanders:And he also makes a point ... David makes the point in the film that the police policy after the announcement of the non-indictment went down was very suspicious as well. Tell us about that.
Sabaah Folayan:It was ... The night of the non-indictment, it was very, very eerie. There was this build up in the weeks and day leading up to it where you could just feel in the air that it was coming down any day and everyone would just be asking each other, "What do you think it's gonna be? What's gonna happen? When is it gonna happen?"
And so, the can just kept getting kicked down the road and finally it ... The middle of the night, this announcement drops and no one knew ... This unified command, no one knew kind of where they came from. And people were whispering about there being this sort of all call put out to police across Missouri to just come and be a part of this, this force.
And so, that night, there's just these men in black and you don't really see any name tags or shields. There's no one you can talk to or ask any questions of or anything. People sort of just came ready for battle. And no one ever really did get an answer to the question of kind of where does the buck stop?