For most of the country, the city of Flint is associated with one thing: a water crisis. Whenever the Mich. city is mentioned, it is often accompanied by shots of brown water bubbling out of fountains, parents begging for proper help and politicians exploiting a city in turmoil. Yet trouble in Flint was brewing before the water crisis ever hit; that was just another unfortunate problem piled on top of a city already crushed under the weight of crime and poverty. In “Flint Town,” an eight-part docuseries premiering on Netflix, viewers are offered behind-the-scenes footage of the broken city of Flint, and the police department doing everything in its power to hold the city, and its citizens, together.
“Flint Town” has no time for a soft opening. The series opens up on a black screen, with an audio of a police radio giving details about a shooting that has just occurred. As the audio continues, the black screen fades into an aerial shot of an abandoned street, dusted with snow — the only sign of life being a single cop car driving through the darkness. Soon after, a motionless hand is shown resting in the snow, lit up by blue and red, as a woman is heard desperately pleading and sobbing: “Save my son, please. You have to save my son.”
These disturbing scenes and high emotions permeate consistently throughout “Flint Town.” The once vibrant city is crumbling, and the documentary does not sugarcoat that. At first glance, it may seem like a hyperbolized “cop show,” used as a vehicle to push a pro-police agenda in a time when the relationship between police and the people, especially African-Americans, is so strained. But truly it is much more than that. The emotions are raw, the frustrations are relevant and the danger that every single person in the town faces is very, very real.
And while the stories are being told from the eyes of law enforcement, the show does not feel politicized. Rather, there is an apolitical aura of desperation from the police department low on resources and from citizens who feel abandoned and betrayed. Every episode of the series builds upon the last, from veteran police officers to new recruits, many coming straight from the streets of Flint ready to reclaim their city.
Watching the rundown houses, the nights full of shootings and the fear etched into every Flint citizen’s face, it is hard to believe that the city is just short of an hour drive from Ann Arbor, where 18-year-olds are more concerned about studying for finals or figuring out their plans on a Saturday night than getting shot or finding clean water. In this bubble of privilege, Flint’s struggle seems far removed, like a foreign country engulfed in civil war. But this city is our neighbor, and it too was once lively and affluent. Flint’s story may be fading from the news cycle, but that does not mean that its problems are going away. Indifference is as toxic to the city as its water supply, and the stories of “Flint Town” should not only shock you, but implore you to seek change. Highlighting the cycle of distrust and defeat between the town’s citizens, police and administration, “Flint Town” reaches beyond the city’s lines as both a call to action and a cry for help.