Message of '137 Shots' Doc is Not to Defund Police, Says Director, but to Demilitarize Police

click to enlarge The Netflix doc "137 Shots" comes out on 12/15/21. - Netflix
The Netflix doc "137 Shots" comes out on 12/15/21.
The message of the Netflix documentary 137 Shots is not that American police departments should be defunded, according to its director Michael Milano. It's that they should be demilitarized.

Milano, a Northeast Ohio native, spent years capturing footage in Cleveland in the aftermath of the 2012 police chase and shooting that killed Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. He and his crew have created a film that is among the most clear-eyed chronicles of recent police misconduct in Cleveland and efforts by the community to reform the department.

It includes interviews with former officer Michael Brelo, former Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, former CPPA union boss Steve Loomis and a host of activists and commentators as it documents the titular case, the Tamir Rice shooting and the Consent Decree process.

Milano spoke at a panel Wednesday evening hosted by Cleveland Marshall Law School and moderated by 3 News anchor Russ Mitchell. He said that he believes that police in America associate strength with bigger weapons and more violence when they should associate it with heightened empathy and more compassion. He said back in the 70s, the "coolest cop" was the one that never had to carry a gun, but that a hyper-militarized institution equipped with military-grade equipment that recruits officers directly from the armed forces has changed the calculus.

Milano appeared alongside the film's cinematographer Damian Eduardos; Jackie Russell, the sister-in-law of Timothy Russell; and local community activist Alonzo Mitchell.

Thousands of viewers have now streamed the documentary worldwide, Milano said, and despite multiple cuts and tentativeness from the studio and distributor related to the film's traumatic content, the reception has been "overwhelmingly positive." 

When Russ Mitchell asked the panelists what they hoped audiences would take away from the film, Jackie Russell said, simply, "facts," that audiences would get to know Tim Russell as a human being and learn that he was not simply a man fleeing the police for no reason. (The film provides an in-depth explanation of what prompted the chase on Nov. 29, 2012.)

Alonzo Mitchell said he thanked God for cameras, that citizens now have the ability to record police brutality in real time. He also said the film made it clear that anyone could become a cop and he hoped more people would consider law enforcement for reasons other than the adrenaline rush, the thrill of carrying a gun and pretending at war. 

Both Eduardos and Milano said they hoped the film would spark real change.

"We know that change is a result of a thousand ripples," Milano said, "but hopefully this can be a big ripple."

The film was released in December and is available to stream on Netflix.

Sign up for Scene's weekly newsletters to get the latest on Cleveland news, things to do and places to eat delivered right to your inbox.