PBS opened a conversation about police violence and militarization among its viewers with last night’s (May 9) televised broadcast of “Peace Officer.”

The documentary, the trailer for which you can see here, follows former Utah sheriff William ”Dub” Lawrence as he investigates the shooting death of his son-in-law Brian Wood by the very SWAT team he founded three decades before. The film futher investigates how increased arming of police and reliance on SWAT teams impacts modern day policing, incorporating interviews with officers and other experts to map this historical shift. 

PBS followed the broadcast with a town hall (which you can see above) featuring police leaders, activists and private citizens who have encountered police violence. Hosted by NPR’s Michel Martin, the panel addressed the history of police militarization, its contemporary use during racial justice actions and the War on Drugs. St. Louis rapper and activist Haiku, who was in Ferguson following Darren Wilson’s acquittal, spoke about how police presence and a strict curfew there escalted the conflict with protesters:

It looked like Gaza. It was a military response to voices. People were armed with signs, and that was [police’s] response to that. From the beginning, from August 9 when Mike Brown was shot, their response was always kicking us while we were down. It was salt in the wound. All we did was come out and ask questions. When they told us that they were implementing the curfew that night, we weren’t going to obey the curfew. We weren’t going to storm the police station with weapons and try to tear the place down. They threw tear gas at us … they used sound weaponry against unarmed people. 

PBS invited an online discussion hashtagged with the trending #PeaceOfficerPBS, which viewers used to comment on the town hall, film, personal experiences and the film’s central issues:

 

PBS aired “Peace Officer” as the first of a two-part special on gun violence. The second documentary, “The Armour of Light,” will examine religious perspectives on gun violence and airs tonight (May 10) with its own town hall at 9:25 EST on PBS, PBS.org and NPR.org.