For Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay, the aspect of the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin that shook her most was how Cauvin stared down the camera that was filming him. Telling Stephen Colbert on Thursday’s Late Show that, in her capacity as a documentarian and activist, she’s seen all too many similar incidents of police violence against Black Americans, it was Chauvin’s brazen spiking of an observer’s camera while he knelt on the neck of a pleading Floyd for over eight minutes that spurred her to found her newest venture, the Law Enforcement Accountability Project.
“It knocked me to my knees,” is how DuVernary put it, telling Colbert that her plan is to help fund the work of other artist-activists in various disciplines whose work helps expose abusive law enforcement personnel to the same public scrutiny that their victims traditionally receive. “LEAP is basically saying that we don’t feel that police unions are holding bad cops accountable,” said DuVernay, “We don’t see courts holding these cops accountable. We the people as taxpayers can do it.” Talking with Colbert about her sobering and mobilizing research into racism and the American justice system for her Oscar-nominated documentary 13th, DuVernay said she hopes her 2016 film—available for free on YouTube all summer and trending once more on Netflix—will help provide viewers context for what she termed America’s “criminalization of Black people.”
On that note, she and Colbert segued into a discussion of Donald Trump’s currently ramping-up “law and order” rhetoric as he sends unidentified federal police into American cities to kidnap protesters off the streets, something that DuVernay stressed, “is what our country has supposedly gone into other countries to fight against.” Sharing her outrage at the fact that media coverage isn’t putting this banana republic “shock troops” action (Colbert’s words) front-and-center on every newscast, DuVernay told Colbert that—echoing the sustained protests after George Floyd’s murder—“The outrage is going to come from the coverage of it.” As Colbert, paraphrasing the Federalist Papers’ warnings about authoritarianism, noted that “If someone can pop a bag over your head and take you away without cause, you have no other rights,” DuVernay called out Trump for “taking a page from a very old playbook.” (You know, the one where a flailing politician plummeting in the polls tries to frighten white Americans with racist rhetoric in a desperate attempt to cling to power. That playbook.)
Calling Trump’s “dogwhistle, “pretty basic, yet desperately violent,” DuVernay told Colbert that the only antidote is for people to get educated and thus “defang” such fear-mongering tactics before they can do any more damage. (Perhaps by watching 13th, for free.) Both defiant and optimistic, the filmmaker concluded that the “jaw-dropping” attacks on protesters in Portland, Oregon (and coming soon to other cities, according to Trump and chief accomplice in fascism, Attorney General William Barr) can, like the actions of racist and abusive law enforcement everywhere, be thwarted by an informed and motivated public exposing their civil rights violations and authoritarianism for what they are. “Folks just need to educate themselves,” said DuVernay. And, as is LEAP’s mission, expose every bad cop to the light of a camera.