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From the Pittsburgh Police series
John Marshall
black and white, 65 min, 1972

Also available on DSL and DVD

In this film we accompany patrol cars 901 and 904 as they ply the streets of Pittsburgh. The diversity of situations to which the policemen are called upon to respond are striking: from a man who is furious because he can not get his twenty dollar deposit refunded on an exhaust system that does not fit his car, to an elderly white man who says he wants to shoot the black teenagers playing handball on his house wall, to a group of white teenage youths loitering in the street on a sultry summer day. Scenes from short films such as Henry is Drunk and A Forty Dollar Misunderstanding are intercut with other material, including footage in the police station where the men talk about their experiences.

The striking element in many of the scenes is the level of frustration, anger, and at times a feeling of impending violence. This is true of the policemen themselves (from “I’m not talking nice no more” to some brutal beatings), as well of the people of the city, who speak of guns and fear. As Laura Nader points out in the film Little Injustices, the typical American ignorance of, and lack of access to, the law so often leads not to the resolution of but to the escalation of conflict. As one irritated man exclaims to the officer who seems to dismiss his complaint as though he were just a cantankerous old pest, “That’s where I’d like to know the definition of breaking the law!”

Viewing this film, we also understand the exhaustion that police work often entails, for the policemen often have no real solutions themselves. It is clear why policemen are so often the victims of public rage, and why they in turn may vent their own frustrations on the public.