Daily Brooklyn 99 Thoughts: B99 vs. SVU on addressing institutionalized racism

Law & Order SVU season 17 episode 5: Synopsis: “An unarmed black man is shot during the pursuit of a suspect, raising racial tensions; Barba must indict the three officers involved — who claim they followed procedure.”
The squad are chasing a seriously dangerous perp, three policemen corner him and shoot – but it turns out afterwards that it was the wrong guy. The victim dies 😦 and the police department is in trouble. As it does, SVU goes into details of number of bullets fired, they hold an indictment and question all the officers involved and hold an internal investigation. It’s satisfying to watch justice being done, even though the episode ends before the full trial, so you don’t know what ends up happening to those specific cops (and I haven’t checked if that’s revealed in the following episodes.)

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Brookly Nine Nine season 4 episode 16: Sgt Terry Jeffords, one of the main characters on the show, is stopped in his neighborhood while out looking for his daughter’s blanky. The cop eventually lets him go when Terry says he’s also a policeman. Terry decides to try to handle it in a friendly way, and at first he meets the other cop in a coffee shop to talk. The cop is sorry he stopped him because Terry is also a cop, but he shows no remorse about the way he acted and says he’s “not going to apologize for doing his job.” Terry’s not satisfied, and decides to file an official complaint. At first the Captain advises against it, saying there could be backlash, but by the end of the episode the Captain changes his mind. Captain Holt is a gay black man, and says the reason he rose through the system was in order to be in a position to make change – so he supports Terry filing the complaint, repercussions be damned. Captain Holt says as a result, the other cop will probably think twice about making another bad stop.

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Both shows make a point of giving airtime to stories like this, and raising awareness is important, but it’s not enough. They both emphasize the feeling of injustice that accompanies the multitudes of cases all across the US and the world – people are just getting away with it.

I think Brooklyn 99’s message was stronger, even though no one died. In this story, the victim was a main character to which the audience has developed an attachment over four seasons. It was that much more shocking that anyone could possibly look at Terry and see just a black man, because we know so much about him. The guy built a princess castle on screen in season one. He’s a dad. He’s a great guy. But this cop didn’t know him – so it was really disturbing to see him escalating so quickly with “hands on your head – don’t move – keep your voice down -” etc while holding a gun. On the other hand, we’re pretty used to seeing lots of flying bullets on SVU, it’s the kind of thing they do a lot. The victim on SVU was an anonymous teenager who didn’t say anything during his minute on screen. It’s hard to empathize with the cops that were involved in the shooting, but they do make a big deal to show how upset they are and how worried that the city is “going to hang them” which seems an inappropriate exaggeration in light of an innocent man’s death at their hands.

Additionally, the Captain’s decision to back Terry’s complaint is meaningful, and (although fictional) shows something that can be done to effect change within the system. It shows people willing to risk their career to make the streets safer for black people. As satisfying as it is to watch ADA Barba question the cops on the stand, at no point is SVU discussing change – they are just representing reality, which is okay, that’s what they do. But it’s another reason why I think B99 wins this round.

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#socialjustice #sgtterryjeffords #captainholt #racism

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