Documentary Film ‘The Thin Black Line’ Reveals Being Black Behind the Badge

Over the last several years, Americans have been faced with a volatile situation that has divided the public over the trust in American Policing. The issue has pitted being black against being pro-law enforcement. But what if you happen to be both?

The new original documentary film, ‘The Thin Black Line’ from actor-filmmaker Jim Klock, examines the cost of being black behind the badge in suburban America. These 81-minutes deliver comprehensive and impassioned interviews from African American officers serving on the front lines just 35 miles south of our nation’s capital in Stafford, Virginia.

Jim is best known for his work as an actor with notable appearance in the Oscar-winning ‘Green Book,’ ‘True Detective,’ ‘Underground Railroad,’ ‘The Whole Truth,’ and ‘Scream Queens.’ But what many might not realize is that he is also a decorated veteran police officer who still serves as a part-time deputy sheriff. 

It was his curiosity and compassion for his fellow black officers that lead him to team with community leader-activist Vernon Green Jr and Stafford Sheriff D.P. Decatur to create ‘The Thin Black Line.’ 

Now available worldwide on major streaming platforms, Jim Klock and Vernon Green Jr took time to answer a few questions about making the documentary:

Why did each of you want to create a documentary about this topic?

Vernon Green: I was approached by my friend, Director Jim Klock about his desire bring attention to the challenges for minorities in Law Enforcement but he did not want to come across as a white man speaking for black people. He shared his experiences with me and why this was important, and I was honored he asked me to join the effort. For me, I wanted to help with our policing issues also. Since George Floyd, and countless other tragedies, many minorities have left law enforcement. At the same time, it is very difficult to recruit minorities into the field. I believe the answer to police reform is not less, but more minority representation in law enforcement, particularly in leadership positions. I hope this film, will help recruit our next generation of law enforcement with a renewed passion and commitment to community.

Jim Klock: In the summer of 2020 I was speaking with one of my best friends in the world, Gerald “Neighborhood” Ford, who’s a sergeant with the Alexandria Police Department in Alexandria, Virginia. We were partners for a few years during my time in police work. Gerald happens to not only be an amazing human and police officer, but also a person of color who influenced me greatly in my career. I could hear in his voice, the toll everything happening across the country was taking on him, and then he opened-up to me about all these feelings he was having, not only as a police officer but as a black man. 

We spoke about a variety of elements that needed to be changed and addressed. People deserved better, and the profession needed to embrace that. We were both well aware that we didn’t have a lot of answers, but one thing we both did know, was the fact that less men and women of color in law enforcement was not the answer. He opened-up to me that he was afraid the current situation was going to cause a major shift of minorities joining law enforcement; and it’s turned out he was right. I love Gerald and I’m forever grateful for his loyal friendship and the love he’s shown me. He taught me so much about cultural diversity simply by being my friend and I felt like I needed to do something to share that love.

What do you think is the biggest misconception you address in the film?

Vernon Green: Instead of misconception, I would say explanation and consideration to the stressors and pressures of being a minority law enforcement officer.

Jim Klock: The fact that these officers are minorities first and police officers second, not the other way around. They don’t become police officers and then suddenly never face racism, hate, and bigotry again. That’s just not the case. I hope this film honors the men and women of color working in law enforcement who choose to face these challenges in a variety of ways, while trying to make the world a better place.

What were the first steps you took to get it made?

Jim Klock: I took the idea to Sheriff David Decatur of the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office in Stafford, Virginia, where I still currently serve as part time Deputy Sheriff. Within five minutes he not only said ‘Yes’ to allowing me to film, but he also wanted to help in any way he could. He granted me full access to the department and made it very clear that he wanted to be part of this opportunity to help this message and these stories be told. The film would not exist without him. He’s truly one of the best men I’ve ever known and is hands down the best sheriff in this country, in my opinion, because he leads with love, he leads with compassion, and he leads with integrity. He wasn’t afraid to let the truth be told, and in fact wanted to learn how to grow and improve from that truth. 

Sheriff Decatur also introduced me to one of our incredible executive producers, Charles Roberts, ESQ., who graciously gave me the first seed money to get started, as well as opening his beautiful home to film some of the interviews. Eventually, I met with my dear friend and producing partner on the project, Vernon Green, who I also met through the sheriff. Vernon is an incredible community leader and works closely with Sheriff Decatur on many projects to make the community a stronger and safer place through his wonderful non-profit, G3 Community Services. He said ‘Yes’ in a matter of seconds, and not only fully financed the film, but he was an incredible voice in the documentary, adding such a unique and fresh perspective. He’s been a blessing in every way to work with, and none of this was possible without him believing in me and the heart of this film.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced during the making of the film, and how did you overcome it?

Vernon Green: This is all new to me, so I would say I just took the whole experience in. And whenever I had questions, I trusted my friend Jim Klock.

Jim Klock: I think it was not letting the ‘business’ of making and selling a film ever change our ‘why’. I had a lot of industry people telling me I needed to do this or that, or I should make it more politically charged for dramatic effect and ‘target’ particular audiences to get a better ‘sale.’ Instead, we stayed true to what this film was. We didn’t do this project to simply make money. Our goal was to make a difference.

What do you hope audiences take away after watching?

Vernon Green: While law enforcement is held to a higher standard, they are still people too, regardless of sex, color, or ethnicity. That we need more diversity in law enforcement.

Have you discovered any unexpected resistance or acceptance to the film?

Jim Klock: I’ve really enjoyed reading how people who’ve seen the film relate to the heart of each one of these officers. One review said, ‘It’s hard to watch this film and not feel empathy,’ and that to me is just beautiful. I think some people thought, because of my background, I was making a ‘pro cop’ film. But I set out to make a ‘pro person of color’ film, and it’s been a huge blessing to see the audience receive it that way.

How did your previous experience impact the project?

Jim Klock: I think every element of my career showed up in this project. Obviously, my law enforcement career had a lot to do with how this project started, but all I’ve been blessed to do as an actor, writer, producer, and director show up at different stages of this production. Calling on friends for advice or using relationship capital to help keep the budget down by calling on favors for jobs that normally would’ve cost way more than we paid. I also studied a lot of documentary films, and one thing I really felt strongly about was never taking the focus off what was most important. In my early days, I might have felt pressure to add or remove elements that ‘the industry’ experts were telling me to do, but at this stage I had the confidence to stand on what we built because our foundation was strong and built on love and integrity.

We know you’re passionate about creating change, have you seen any positive outcome from the film so far?

Jim Klock: I got a call a few weeks ago from an old friend who said he watched it three times and cried. He had 30 years in law enforcement and was very touched because he said it expressed so much of how he felt during his career. Those messages mean the world because that was the hope. To give a voice to those who often have had their voice silenced. That’s been the consistent positive feedback and we’re very proud of that.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Jim Klock: ‘Never give up. Never EVER give up.’ From Jim Valvano. And, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ That’s an African proverb shared with me by Sheriff Decatur. 

What inspires you most in your life and career?

Jim Klock: My faith. I wake up every day asking God to bless me to be a blessing to others. I just want to use the skills God has given me to spread as much love and hope as I can. To be generous with my time, money, and energy, a lot like my dear friends and partners Vernon Green and Sheriff David Decatur.

Related links:

Official Trailer:

Jim Klock:

Vernon Green Jr:


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