In recent years a recurring image has appeared in the news: police officers in riot gear confronting Black protesters in urban neighborhoods. In most cases, the officers are white — which only adds to the tension. But often, Black officers are also part of the conflict.
Do they see themselves as cops first, Black second? Do they view their racial background as irrelevant? And how does the Black community feel about Black cops? Those are just a few of the questions addressed in “Black and Blue,” a half-hour documentary by filmmaker and Kansas City Art Institute graduate Solomon Bass.
The film was inspired in part by personal experience, Bass said.
“I’m a security guard at a hospital,” he said. “And I saw a couple of young Black brothers sitting in the emergency room, looking like they needed help. So I asked if I could help them, and they looked at me like I was the enemy.
“I guess they saw my badge, and everything I had on,” Bass said. “The Taser, and all that. So they wouldn’t allow me to help them. They just brushed me off. And I wondered, if I get this kind of pushback from my own community — just me being a security guard — how much do Black police officers get?”
Production on “Black and Blue” began in summer 2017 and took roughly a year to complete. But the film includes footage that Bass shot in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager.
“Probably a week after Mike Brown got killed, I packed my bags and went there,” he said.
Brown’s death was one of several that sparked a national debate about police violence against Black people in general and Black men in particular. And it cast a spotlight on Black officers, whose loyalties are often questioned.
In “Black and Blue,” Bass conducts interviews with local residents in which he gauges African-American attitudes about Blacks in blue. Of particular note are the comments of former police officer Donald Carter, who offers insights into the challenges that Black cops face in connecting with their communities.
Persuading some folks to address the subject was a challenge in itself, Bass said.
“A lot of people were skeptical,” he said. “Like, ‘I’m not going to get arrested for this, am I?’ But it’s freedom of speech.”
Bass received $6,000 to make “Black and Blue” through Rocket Grants, a partnership of the Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art. Funding for the program is provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. A public screening was held in August, and Bass is pursuing other opportunities to get the documentary seen, such as film festivals.
In the documentary, one of Bass’s interviewees — an older man — recalls a time when Black officers were embraced by the Black community instead of being viewed with suspicion.
“Back then, there was more unity, because they were fighting for the same things: freedom and equality,” Bass said. “I believe we felt each other’s pain more.”