Films Recommendations for Young Adults: Police Reform

A documentary on any given topic can be a great way to see life thru someone else’s eyes. Some may inspire you to dig deeper into a particular topic. Some may open your eyes to worlds you never knew existed.

For this installment of Queue It Up! we’re going to take a look at a topic that is currently in the streets of all across America and is gaining momentum withing City, State and National governments too. Police Reform.

The push for police reform has been decades in the making and documentary filmmakers from around the world have been chronicling this topic for just as long. Below are titles, descriptions and links to either start watching these films now, or to request them from the Library.

As always, if any of these films connect with you, there are more to watch and plenty more materials that dive into the topics in a much deeper way too.


First up, a few films that give some hisotrical context.

July ’64 (55 mins) This short documentary is streaming on Kanopy. The night of Friday, July 24th, 1964 started off normally enough in Rochester New York, stiflingly hot and humid; but by the next morning no one would look at race relations in the North the same again. JULY ’64 takes a penetrating look at the underlying causes of the riots or urban insurrections that swept through Black communities like wildfires that summer and in years since.

Revolution '67 | Kanopy

Revolution ’67 (90 mins) from award winning documentarian Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno is streaming on Kanopy and focuses on the explosive urban rebellion in Newark, New Jersey, in July 1967. The events in the film reveal the long-standing racial, economic, and political forces which generated inner city poverty and perpetuate to today. Newark residents, police, officials, and urban commentators, including writer/activist Amiri Baraka, journalist Bob Herbert, prominent historians, and ’60s activist Tom Hayden, recount the vivid, day-to-day details of the uprising.

The film also trace those traumatic days back to decades of industrial decline, unemployment, job and housing discrimination, federal programs favoring suburbs over cities, police impunity, political corruption, and a costly, divisive overseas war (Vietnam). Americans should not have been surprised when race wars exploded, turning cities into combat zones, bringing Vietnam back home.

Law and Order (TV Movie 1969) - IMDb

Law & Order (89 mins) is an Emmy winning 1969 film from director Frederick Wiseman that surveys the wide range of work the police are asked to perform: enforcing the law, maintaining order, and providing general social services. The incidents shown illustrate how training, community expectations, socio-economic status of the subject, the threat of violence, and discretion affect police behavior.


These films explore how citizens can hold the police accountable.

Copwatch (95 mins) is Camilla Hall’s film from 2017 that follows “WeCopwatch“, an organization dedicated to bringing awareness to their community and exposing police brutality/harassment. Members of the organization legally record/document arrests, but often find themselves to be victims as well. WeCopwatch filmed the original videos of the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Freddie Gray in Baltimore that ignited the entire nation.

Policing the Police (54 mins) is a 2016 Frontline investigation inside one police force that’s been ordered to reform by the Department of Justice: the Newark Police Department in New Jersey. Take a nuanced glimpse into how topics in the national discussion about race and policing are playing out every day on the streets of Newark, in community members’ homes, and in the city’s police precincts.


Since the 1990’s there has been an increase in military equipment being given to local police.

Peace Officer (110 mins) won multiple awards when it came out in 2015. It documents the increasingly militarized state of American police as told through the very personal story of William “Dub” Lawrence, a former sheriff who established and trained his rural state’s first SWAT team only to see that same unit kill his son-in-law in a controversial standoff. Driven by an obsessed sense of mission, Dub uses his own investigative skills to uncover the truth in this and other recent officer involved shootings in his community while tackling larger questions about the changing face of peace officers nationwide.

Urban Warrior (49 mins) is a short film that documents the formerly bright line separating U.S. military operations from domestic police work has become increasingly blurred. From Waco to the WTO protests, weaponry and tactics once reserved for the battlefield have been used in police operations on U.S. soil. Urban Warrior investigates the debate over the use of military tactics in law enforcement, and looks at the impact this trend is having on American civil liberties by interviewing academics, journalists, police officers and military personnel.


Dispatches from Cleveland (74 mins) explores the soul of Cleveland through the story of Tamir Rice in five different chapters. In the aftermath of unfathomable tragedy, everyday people still have a voice and collectively can make an impact on their communities. In this particular story, the people of Cleveland banded together to take out a prosecutor who didn’t have their backs. Each chapter is a different aspect, perspective and set of characters that are woven together in this story which, though heartbreaking, is ultimately empowering.

Stop - Challenging NYPD's "Stop and Frisk" Policies | Kanopy

Stop – Challenging NYPD’s “Stop and Frisk” Policies (88 mins) follows three years in the life of David Ourlicht, one of the four named plaintiffs in Floyd et al. v. the City of New York et al. By interweaving the story of David’s family with the action around the trial, STOP places the stop & frisk controversy in the context of a long history of civil rights. From David’s Jewish grandfather, who describes being arrested in Greenwich village on his first date with David’s grandmother, an African- American woman, to David’s biracial father, Italian-American mother, and mixed race sister, the Ourlicht family offers a powerful backdrop to the flashpoint issue of stop & frisk. The film asks: Must we trade safety for civil rights?

P.S. I Can't Breathe (2015)

P.S. I Can’t Breath (21 mins) gives viewers a raw, uncensored glimpse into the Millions March NYC. Real interviews with the protesters show the depths of hurt and anger in the community, along with their hope for justice and suggestions for solutions to inspire the change many wish to see! P.S. I Can’t Breathe encourages the observer to digest information regarding the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag and understand the youth’s perspective on the topic while taking a deeper look into aftermath or postscript of hope lost and shattered dreams when justice is not equal for everyone.

Operation Small Axe (69 mins) takes a raw and unflinching look at life under police terrorism in Oakland. Through the stories of Oscar Grant and Lovelle Mixon, the film focuses on the occupation of Oakland’s communities of color by militarized and racist police forces. Oscar Grant was shot in the back and killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle on January 1st of 2009. On March 21st, Lovelle Mixon was killed by Oakland police after having allegedly shot five OPD officers, killing four.