Color of Change, a nonprofit founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and dedicated to social justice advocacy, and the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center just completed a new study about representation and messaging in police and crime TV shows. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the results backup the revelations from the Washington Post's 2016 investigative series, "Dragnets, Dirty Harrys, and Dying Hard: 100 years of the police in pop culture" — that police department PR machines have long collaborated with Hollywood executive powers-that-be to utilize TV to influence public perceptions of law enforcement.
The report is based a data crunch of 353 episodes from 26 crime-related scripted television shows that aired in the 2017-2018 season. They analyzed the race and gender breakdowns of the writers, showrunners, and consultants involved in the shows, as well as the on-screen representation of criminal justice, persons of interest, and victims. Overall, the study identified 5,400 variable data points across the shows, focusing on such questions:
Do crime procedurals and other crime-focused series produced in the U.S. accurately depict the reality of the criminal justice system, accurately depict racial disparities (e.g., racially biased treatment by authorities, the disproportionate targeting of people of color communities, disproportionate punishment or other outcomes based on race) and depict reforms and other solutions for correcting racial disparities in the criminal justice system?
If present, do series portray any specific actions or attitudes of criminal justice professionals as directly resulting in those racial disparities? Do they portray any of the routine practices of the criminal justice system as resulting in racial disparities? Read the rest
Tales of piss-headed police officers dominated the news in the week before New Years (at least, in my social circles, if we discount everything related to Star Wars). In West Virginia, the governor has finally recommended the firing of the full Hitler Heil-ing cadet class. In Kansas, another cop was (allegedly) terminated after writing "Fucking Pig" on his own McDonald's coffee cup and trying to blame it on the hard-working, underpaid workers whom he should be theoretically serving and protecting. (Some cops in Alabama also made a mocking "homeless quilt" that the department later apologized for, though the officers weren't actually reprimanded as far as I can tell.)
On the surface, this is largely a good thing. Although these are somewhat-minor acts in the grand scheme of police behaviors, the fact that there are actually repercussions for police misconduct already represents a sea change from the way things have been. Police departments across the country have kept secret lists of criminal crops who remain in their employ; typically, when cops are caught lying about things (even as dumb and small as a McDonald's coffee cup), the rest of their testimony is still given weight. Hell, the National Center for Women and Policing found that at least 40% of police officers self-reported domestic violence in the home … and still keep their jobs.
But these guys in West Virginia and Kansas? They might actually lose their jobs over a couple of pictures.
The public outrage towards unfair and overly aggressive policing has noticeably swelled alongside the raise of the Black Lives Matter movement, and particularly in the aftermath of that obscene military occupation in Ferguson. Read the rest
On Tuesday, December 2, the current Attorney General and former Iran-Contra fixer gave a speech at the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing in which he threatened to take away police protections from communities who refused to bow down and respect worship law enforcement.
American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officer. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves ― and if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.
There's the obvious problem here, which is that serving and protecting the public should not be contingent upon the public's lavish praise. That's not a service; it's blackmail. If police truly covet public veneration, then they should be selfless enough to serve and protect without the expectation of reward, and simply because it's the right thing to do.
But the other, more ironic issue is about government dependency. Conservatives in the modern GOP love to give lip service to independence — to by-your-bootstraps self-determination. "People need to stop relying on the government, and take care of themselves!" they say. But here's Bill Barr, threatening to take away a government service as if it's a bad thing. We all know what "communities" he's referring to in this speech; they're the same ones that have been historically targeted, bullied, and oppressed by police. That's why these communities don't respect the police. Read the rest
The "Straight Pride" Parade that was held in Boston in the end of August was just another example of thinly-veiled alt-right trolling. Unfortunately, it also worked. A hateful parade of a hundred-or-so people managed to divert hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars into overtime police coverage and shutdown streets during the busiest weekend in the city (Labor Day + college move-ins = hell).
Thanks to WBUR, we now know that that cost included 9,000 hours of overtime work for local police officers—the equivalent of 4 years of full-time policing service. And none of it was officially caught on film, despite the police aggressions caught on social media and the 3 dozen counter-protestors who were arrested during the parade.
(Coincidentally, the Massachusetts State Police Union was also embroiled in an overtime scandal in the months leading up to this parade.)
There are plenty of pros and cons to debate around the use of body cameras for police officers. In this case, it means that the public only has access to choppy, not-necessarily-reliable videos that arguably paint a picture of excessive police aggression against protestors. Read the rest