Critics' Pick

Whose Streets? (R)

Documentary 90 min. August 18, 2017
By Alan Scherstuhl
In stirring interviews and horrific footage of police gassing protesters, the new Ferguson doc Whose Streets? booms out a truth you know already no matter who you are: Black people die because white cops fear them. Even the grand jury that failed to find cause to indict officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Ferguson teen Michael Brown in 2014 knows this: They decided, like so many other juries, that a killer cop had reason to believe that he was acting in self defense. Fear of blackness gives the killers both motive and exculpation. Whose Streets? demands that viewers face this truth, stop denying it, admit that that fear -- that conception of Black America as a thugscape to be culled -- has tainted routine police work, from Stop and Frisk to traffic stops to the handling of protesters. Brittany Ferrell, a Ferguson activist of peerless mettle, reads aloud in Whose Streets? from her arresting officer's report of her behavior in a protest: "The female was screaming, but it seemed more like tribal chanting than words."

Directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis, making their feature debut, have cut together a community portrait of the protests and police crackdown that followed Brown's death, much of it sourced from cellphones and video cameras. Whose Streets? makes clear what cable news wouldn't: That protesters are not necessarily rioters, that some property damage does not invalidate the righteousness of the people in the streets. Folayan and Davis don't recapitulate all the facts of the shooting; instead they embed us with the activists and invite us to bear witness to truths that are no longer tenable for any American to deny.
Sabaah Folayan Magnolia Pictures

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