Thorns on the Rose | Documentary Review

Pasadena, California, the City of Roses

To protect and serve. That is the purpose of the police department. And yet for Pasadena residents and community advocates like Esprit Jones, calling the police isn’t really number one on their to do list when things get difficult in the “Rose City”.

“Because what are they going to do? Show up and shoot the wrong person?”

Thorns on the Rose: Black Abuse, Corruption & the Pasadena Police is a documentary about just that: black abuse, corruption, and the Pasadena police. Throughout the sixty-minute documentary, the viewer is shown example after example of moments when police officers in Pasadena have killed or abused black men in the city. The documentary goes through examples from the last forty years or so, but its focus in on the last few years with incidents like the violence against Christopher Ballew in 2017 and the shooting of Anthony McClain when he ran away from the police in 2020.

“The City of Roses has sharp thorns”

This is not an easy documentary to watch. But it is important. Produced by Pasadena locals, the film does a phenomenal job capturing the emotion behind these acts of violence that have plagued the streets of Pasadena for decades. The documentary is raw and often the footage has been shot on nothing other than a cell phone.

Thorns on the Rose: Black Abuse, Corruption & the Pasadena Police from Pasadena Black Pages TV on Vimeo.

Like when James Farr, one of the producers of the film, shot footage of the police coroner driving away with the body of Reginald Thomas Junior who according to the documentary called the police because he was having mental health issues. He was shot and killed at the scene. Friends, relatives, and neighbours crowded around the car as it drove away. Wails of sadness, anger, and confusion swept throughout the crowd; James Farr was there.

Am I next?

It is worth saying that this documentary does not hide the violence seen in the body cam footage taken from the police. If you choose to watch the documentary, and we recommend it, you will see officers shoot and tase Black men. There is a moment in the documentary when a protestor holds up a sign asking, “Am I next?” It’s a fair question given what you see in the documentary.

Violence from the police is a reality for certain neighbourhoods in Pasadena. We see that violence laid out in this powerful documentary – the film acts as a repository for the all too insurmountable and undeniable evidence.


One of the areas that Thorns on the Rose captures so well are the layers of trauma among Black communities in Pasadena.  A reality that is shared on a larger, national scale – that for Black Americans being stopped or questioned by the police that stop could lead to death.  This is something that Civil Rights Attorney, Benjamin Crump, emphasized in an appearance at the Pasadena City Hall, in regard to the case against the Pasadena Police Department for the killing of Anthony McClain in a rally that happened this Monday, May 17, 2021.

This reality raises the point that when the organisation put into place to supposedly protect and serve you is the very organisation that could end your life, fear, anger and even despair are immense. Distress and anxiety become part of your everyday life.

And like the documentary shows, these are not isolated incidents. It is a systemic problem. As the Pasadena Black Pages article on the documentary puts it, “The death of Black men at the hands of the Pasadena Police Department has planted seeds that have germinated and blossomed into arrangements of mistrust and fear.”

Hope emerging from despair

There is something incredibly intimate in a documentary of this intensity being produced by Pasadena locals who walk the streets and know the city. It means that viewers get a window into the difficulties that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. It also means the creators of the documentary are more likely to give back to the community. The profits generated from Thorns on the Rose will go to a PUSD graduating senior to help alleviate some of their college debt. So instead of using a documentary like this to profit, the team decided to use it to start a scholarship.

And if you have no other reason to buy the documentary, that’s it.

That’s really all I have to say. It’s difficult to sum up a documentary like this, even in seven hundred words. There is so much going on and the team who created Thorns on the Rose have done a fantastic job laying out the issues and diving into the real heart and emotion of the problem. If you want to watch the documentary, click here.

You can also watch a virtual screening of the film put forward by Boston Court Pasadena on Saturday the 22nd of May. Tickets are $9.99 and proceeds will benefit the Anthony McClain Social Justice Scholarship. If you want more information, click here.

Thorns on the Rose Production Credits 

A DenaLand Production in association with Tunnel Vision
Dennis Haywood Director, Producer & Executive Producer
Rochele Jones Producer
James Farr Producer
Nancy Buchannon Co-Producer
Film By Pasadena Black Pages

*Story first published on on May 18th, 2021