5 Documentaries About Police Brutality To Watch On Netflix

Movies that explore a broken system.
A scene from the Netflix series "Flint Town"
A scene from the Netflix series "Flint Town"

The killing by Minneapolis police of George Floyd spotlighted the issue, but police brutality has a sad, long history in the US, and there’s much to unpack and learn about that.

Documentaries are one way to gain a deeper understanding. In recent weeks, I’ve highlighted documentaries about the American political system and American racism.

This week, I’ve recommended a few documentaries about police brutality to watch on Netflix. They run the gamut from stories of clear-cut physical violence by the police to the brutality of the judicial system as a whole.

Read on for the list. And if you want to stay informed about everything joining Netflix every week, subscribe to the Streamline newsletter.

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Premise: The Oakland Police Department had earned a reputation for misconduct and violence over the years. “The Force” focuses on a new chief who starts in 2013 with yet more reform measures and further attempts to stop the brutality. The cops remain skeptical. Then the Black Lives Matter movement emerges throughout the country, and the department must attempt to meet the moment.

As cities debate the challenges of reforming police departments in 2020, “The Force” offers a look into failures of the past and possible paths forward.

Debut date: Jan. 22, 2017

Runtime: 1 hour, 32 minutes

Why I’m combining this recommendation: These two movies tell the story of the Los Angeles uprising of 1992 in different ways.

To put it succinctly, “LA 92” is a snapshot of the moment with letting the archival footage mostly speak for itself. “Let It Fall” presents the events with historical context.

Vulture recommended watching these two together to get a full picture of what happened after cops assaulted Rodney King. Since they cover the same subject matter, I also decided to pair them here as not to take up two spots in the list. So, surprise, there’s actually six recommendations in this article.

“LA 92” Debut date: April 21, 2017

“LA 92” Runtime: 1 hour, 54 minutes

“Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992” Debut date: April 21, 2017

“Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982–1992” Runtime: 2 hours, 24 minutes

Watch the entirety of “LA 92” below.

“Flint Town” (Netflix Original)

Premise: This docu-series takes a snapshot of Flint, Michigan, in the 2010s. The city has a police department of around 100 people patrolling a population of about 100,000. “Flint Town” profiles the cops and the residents, letting each side express the tremendous fear and distrust in that relationship.

In 2014, it became clear that lead had poisoned the city’s water supply. The trends of poverty and civil unrest only became worse. But the cops kept following their old playbook of too often resorting to violence in doing their job.

Debut date: March 2, 2018

Runtime: Eight episodes of roughly 40 minutes

“Strong Island” (Netflix Film)

Premise: This focuses on the police’s dehumanization of Black citizens.

In 1992, a white man killed a young Black man in Central Islip, New York, and called it self-defense. An all-white jury declined to indict the white man. The Black man’s family spends years dealing with the cops and a judicial system that repeatedly fails to give them attention, help or decency.

Debut date: Sept. 15, 2017

Runtime: 1 hour, 47 minutes

“The Innocence Files” (Netflix Original)

Premise: This docu-series also takes a look at the unfair judicial system that works in parallel with the cops. It focuses on the nonprofit legal organization, the Innocence Project, which has been around since 1992 and works to overturn cases of the wrongfully convicted.

America’s overzealous police force goes hand in hand with an overzealous judicial system. The Innocence Project cannot keep up with all the cases that comes to it. Watching “The Innocence Files” illustrates how fixes like this can only be a band-aid, and we need a profound restructuring of the whole process.

Debut date: April 15, 2020

Runtime: Nine episodes of roughly 65 minutes