On Monday and Tuesday, PBS will devote most of its prime-time schedule to a two-night event built around the theme “Armed in America” as part the service’s ongoing coverage of gun violence. Two films under the “Independent Lens” banner will air, followed by town hall discussions moderated by former ABC News correspondent Michel Martin (now weekend anchor of NPR’s “All Things Considered”). (Both town halls were taped April 27 at Northland Church in Longwood, Florida.)
Monday’s film (9 p.m. on WNET/13), “Peace Officer” — a grand jury winner at SXSW Film Festival in 2015 — is about the explosive growth in police department SWAT teams. It’s pegged to the death of a Utah man who was killed during a SWAT siege, and the long campaign by his father-in-law, William “Dub” Lawrence, to bring charges to those responsible.
Tuesday’s film, “The Armor of Light” (8 p.m. on WNET/13), is about Rev. Dr. Rob Schenck, an evangelical minister who struggles with the question of whether someone can be both pro-life and pro-gun. Lucy McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, the Florida teen killed in 2012 at a Jacksonville gas station — and whose murder tested the state’s “stand your ground law” — is also part of the film.
I spoke recently with Marie Nelson, PBS’ chief of news and public affairs, about “Armed in America.”
Is PBS taking an editorial stand over these two nights on the issue of guns and gun control?
No. We wanted this to be a journalistic conversation. We also wanted someone who would bring to bear some sensitivity to that conversation. Michel is in the position of someone who has multi generations of law enforcement in her family, and a personal interest. She’ll also be receiving her master’s in divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary [in Washington, D.C.].
“Peace Officer” isn’t directly about gun violence, per se, but about — in PBS’ words — the militarization of some police departments through the use of SWAT teams. Why include it in a discussion pegged to the epidemic of gun violence?
There’s been less conversation about the impact of these types of [tactics] and how they’re affecting everyday policing, and so when we saw the film and saw that it was a situation in a community quite different from urban ones, and saw the dangers that are being brought to bear by these militarization efforts, it seemed like a good one to include.
Lucy McBath, who was a big part of HBO’s “3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets,” is also prominently figured in “The Armor of Light.” Why, and was she part of the town hall?
Absolutely she is. Rev. Schenck’s conversation with people like Lucy McBath got him to a place in his own personal struggle [over gun control] and to dig deeper into his own community by constantly raising the questions.
By the end of “Armor,” has he reached an answer over whether being both pro-life and pro-gun are incompatible?
He does arrive at a personal conclusion — that you can’t be both.
Are there other films you will showcase as part of the discussion over gun violence in the future?
We’re actually looking forward to bringing two more ‘‘Independent Lens’’ [programs] that also address gun violence — ‘‘Tower,’’ which is about the first mass shooting, at the University of Texas [on Aug. 1, 1966, in which 19 people were killed and three dozen wounded], and ‘‘Newtown,’’ which looks at the aftermath of the Newtown shooting [on Dec. 14, 2012, in Connecticut].
When will that air and how will it address the tragedy?
Kim Snyder is the filmmaker and it’s an incredibly powerful film. Kim was there very, very early after the shootings and embedded in that community. It will have a theatrical run [it already was previewed at Sundance], and then broadcast. We’re trying to figure out the scheduling, but it won’t be in the current season.