Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer
By John Sooja,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Powerful but dated docu strikes hopeful tone.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Police officers and police departments need to do better in being part of the communities they serve to protect. They also need consistent and routine psychological testing, cultural diversity training, and not to be evaluated on how many arrests they make. Police brutality, racial profiling, and other and all unfair treatment of people and communities of color need to stop. The relationships between police and the communities they serve can be better, more trusting, and safer.
Positive Role Models
Police officers, ex-police officers, wrongly convicted and sentenced citizens, pastors, community leaders, journalists, and academics show how treating love as an acronym ("L" stands for how we can "Learn about people and communities," "O" stands for "Opening our hearts and being empathic," "V" stands for "Volunteering to be part of the solution," and "E" stands for "Empowering others") can help heal the hurt that has caused such division between police and the communities they serve. Many people are featured who work to train and teach police officers and departments how to better handle sensitive situations. The film promotes L.O.V.E. as also a particular diversity training method for police.
Violence & Scariness
An early montage of police brutality shows real footage of many different instances of Black people being unjustly harmed and hurt by police, beaten, thrown from cars, thrown to the ground, wrestled, and some show police kneeling on Black men, while some say out loud many times, "I can't breathe!" Some of the footage also shows different instances of police firing on and shooting their guns at Black people who have their hands up, who are running away for their lives, or are on the ground helplessly. Lots of personal stories of unfair and illegal treatment at the hands of police. Stories of police shooting Black men unjustly. For example, police officer Betty Shelby shot unarmed Terence Crutcher, whose hands were empty and high in the air when he was shot, police officer Jonathan Aledda shot unarmed and lying prone Charles Kinsey, a mental health therapist trying to help a client with autism in the street, and police officer Blane Salamoni shot Alton Sterling, whose cause of death was ruled a homicide, even though the investigations that the U.S. Department of Justice and the State of Louisiana conducted concluded that the police officers involved in the murder "acted in a reasonable and justifiable manner." Other stories of unfair assault, neglect, pepper spraying, beatings, and unjust arrests are told from the people who experienced and witnessed them. Stories come from both police and survivors of police brutality. Some discussion of high rates of suicide for police officers.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some brief discussion about "machismo" and male police officers not wanting to be seen as "soft" or weak.
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Products & Purchases
The documentary is a little self promoting in that the acronym "L.O.V.E." is also used as a diversity and cultural sensitivity training method for police departments.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some mention of drugs and drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. is the Answer is a documentary about police brutality, the systematic and institutionalized racism that has corrupted the police-community relationship, and their pernicious, harmful, and unfair effects. An early montage of police brutality shows real footage of many different instances of Black people being unjustly harmed and hurt by police, beaten, thrown from cars, thrown to the ground, wrestled, and restrained. Some images show police kneeling on Black men as they say out loud many times, "I can't breathe!" just like George Floyd. Some of the footage also shows different instances of police firing on and shooting their guns at Black people who have their hands up, who are running away for their lives, or who are on the ground helplessly. The documentary affirms and gives voice to why so many Black people and Black communities (and other people and communities of color) are terrified of police. Originally released in 2017, this documentary strikes a hopeful tone, offering some instances of police and therapists and teachers who each work to help change how people feel about police and how police feel about the communities they serve. This film highlights many stories of police brutality, racial profiling, and unjust treatment. Part of the message of the film is to teach and spread love as an acronym: "L" stands for "Learning about people and communities," "O" stands for "Opening our hearts and being empathic," "V" stands for "Volunteering to be part of the solution," and "E" stands for "Empowering others." No strong language, but lots of instances of violence. Some discussion of high rates of suicide for police officers and how they aren't encouraged to see therapists, talk about their feelings, or show any weakness.
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Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. Is the Answer
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What's the Story?
In WALKING WHILE BLACK: L.O.V.E. IS THE ANSWER, many Black people recount their experiences of harmful and unfair treatment at the hands of police. Some were unjustly racially profiled, others were beaten, illegally thrown in jail, threatened, laughed at, tortured, beaten, and wrongfully incarcerated. Police officers also provide perspective and testimony of problematic and racist behavior, management, and policy in police departments. Some offer stories of hope and change.
Is It Any Good?
Thankfully, this documentary is well done, and primarily this is because it doesn't try to do anything complicated. Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. is the Answer is very straightforward in what it tries to do. First, it firmly and unquestionably establishes that there's a problem and that if you cannot accept this fact, then you're simply being willfully blind to it. Personal stories and testimonies from both survivors of police brutality and from police officers themselves share their experiences, often to heartbreaking effect. If anything, people need to watch this kind of truth-telling and #ownvoices project, if even only to show and remind people that police all over the country take the lives of Black people in many different ways. Police officers murder Black people, unjustly send the innocent to prison, racially profile, go to poor neighborhoods to up their arrest count, beat, restrain, and hurt Black people because they don't see them as people, and many police officers lie about their racism, behavior, and wrongdoing. So, yes, there's a problem. Secondly, the film transitions to a tone of hope and positivity, which is great and all, but this perspective also dates this docu as it was made 3 years prior to the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. So, even though the message of this film is a hopeful one from 2017, since then, arguably, people are justifiably only more upset, less trusting of the police, and calling for the outright defunding of police departments across the country. Thus, this film's hopeful message of getting the police to do what they need to do so people can trust them again falls a little flat.
The other question that's hard to answer is how a film like this would change the mind of someone who outright rejects the notion of there being a problem in the first place. It probably wouldn't, but at least documentaries like this can be shown to older kids and teens who don't know about history and/or who might live in predominantly White communities. The film also helps give the police (the good ones at least, who acknowledge the problem and desire change) a voice, and many police officers and ex-police officers interviewed model what good police officers should be.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about police brutality. Because Walking While Black: L.O.V.E. is the Answer was made before George Floyd's murder and the Black Lives Matter movement, how do you think this documentary would've been different if it had been made after them?
Lots of time is devoted to perspectives and experiences of police officers and ex-police officers. How does this help the message of the film?
How has the national conversation around police, police brutality, and racial profiling changed since 2017? For one, before George Floyd's murder and the Black Lives Matter movement, not many people were calling for police departments to be defunded, including this documentary. But if it were to have a sequel, how do you think it would comment on the issue of defunding police departments?
- In theaters: May 25, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: May 21, 2021
- Cast: A.J. Ali, Melvin Russell, Tim McMillan, Jameel McGee
- Director: A.J. Ali
- Studio: Magnetbox Films
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, History
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: April 5, 2023
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