An audience of 150 persons attended the recent election-eve special screening of “Charm City” at the Museum of Tolerance. Charm City, a film by Marilyn Ness, delivers a candid portrait of citizens, police, community advocates, and government officials on the frontlines during three years of escalating violence in Baltimore, Md.
This film highlights the positive actions undertaken by groups and individuals, optimistically offering humanity as a common ground. The pivotal role everyone plays in building trust “as we move forward” in the world was underscored several times, as were the barriers that must be overcome.
The panel discussion following the screening sparked lively and timely conversation on a wide range of intersecting topics including policing, trauma, economic disparities, gun control, racism and the role the entire community plays in stemming violence. The conversations were poignant, sometimes uncomfortable, always candid, and primarily focused on solutions. Joining director Ness were Alex Long and Major Monique Brown, whose stories are among those featured in the film. Also participating in the discussion were Brian K. Williams, executive director of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Citizen Oversight Commission, who moderated the panel discussion; Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence; Anthony Robles of the Youth Justice Coalition, and Nason Buchanan with the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.
“The stark reality is that everyone becomes less safe when police and citizens cannot overcome decades-long pervasive distrust and despair,” Ness said. “It’s essential to tackle complex questions and to build empathy where currently there is opposition.”
When asked why this is so important now, Major Monique Brown, a Baltimore native who is featured in the film and also an 18-year police veteran, said “we have to get it right now. I have a son and am a grandmother, and now is the time we have to do it right.”
“We can’t incarcerate our way out of the problem,” said Robles. “We have to deal with the root causes.
As the conversation turned to solutions, panelists were asked what can be done now to stop the epidemic of violence. Giggans urged that people “listen more”. Robles added that he would like to see a “shift five percent of the budget spent on policing to youth development programs.”
Alex Long, who is featured in the film and leads Safe Streets, a community-based violence prevention and interruption program, said “continue to do what you can do, whether it’s big or small, to improve someone’s life.” Major Brown added, “we need to get back to being a true village, like we once were.” “Collaboration and accountability on every level, as well as continue the dialogue,” said Buchanan.
Charm City is structured around a small constellation of memorable people – community members, local elected officials, and law enforcement personnel – living and working in Baltimore during a period of increasing homicides. Audience members said the stories of the people depicted in this film and people living in Los Angeles were striking.
For more information about this critically acclaimed film and to learn about upcoming screenings, go to www.charmcitydoc.com . The documentary is scheduled for a PBS broadcast on Independent Lens in the spring of 2019.