Pandemic Diary Entry #55
August 10, 2020
Months ago, while watching NCIS, I was mortified by the glorification of law enforcement murdering suspects. So many of these shows portray cops with semi-automatic weapons purposefully mowing down the “bad guys”, on public streets no less.
Since this Pandemic began TV shows are not being produced and I have switched to far softer and gentler programs on Netflix. Then the murder of George Floyd occurred and I found that others are questioning the way these shows portray the police.
In a recent interview, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison was asked why it’s so difficult to prosecute cases against police officers.
He began by stating “Just because he is a policeman doesn’t mean you have to believe him, but that is contrary to what some people are brought up to believe.”
“Just think about all the cop shows you may have watched in your life,” he said. “We’re just inundated with this cultural message that these people will do the right thing.”
That is the point, these shows are presenting a false picture of law enforcement. We have been witnessing for the last several weeks that cops do not do the right thing.
These crime shows skew our perception of how the system actually works, including lawyers that work within the system.
An episode of This American Life featured Tammy Burdine, a paralegal who works on civil cases for personal injury lawyer Jack Bailey in Shreveport, Louisiana. The firm was assigned to a criminal case by the Public Defender’s office, but Bailey’s firm was not used to prosecuting such cases. Here’s is what she said: “If you watch the TV shows, the Law & Order, the Criminal Minds, they have evidence. We have evidence in the civil matters. So I assumed the rest of it was coming, maybe in a box or a big envelope. And it never came. It just didn’t.”
A majority of people, and especially white people, never interact with the police in any meaningful way. So sadly, often the only thing we know of police is what we learn through these fictional shows.
There is an historical reason for this and it began sooner that you would have thought. J. Edgar Hoover established the first public relations arm within the FBI in the 1930s. It was called the Crime Records Division. It came at a time when the general public had a low opinion of law enforcement. Hoover recognized how media could disseminate the party line and improve the public’s perception.
The next arm that reached out to Hollywood was the LAPD. Dragnet was written with the express approval of LA police chief William H. Parker.
According to Variety magazine, in the 2018–2019 season, more crime shows were on the list of the top 100 most watched shows than any other genre.
USC’s Annenberg Norman Lear Center looked at those shows and created a report titled Normalizing Injustice.
The summary of the report says “Normalizing Injustice found that the crime TV genre — the main way that tens of millions of people learn to think about the criminal justice system — advanced debunked ideas about crime, a false hero narrative about law enforcement, and distorted representations about Black people, other people of color and women. These shows rendered racism invisible and dismissed any need for police accountability. They made illegal, destructive and racist practices within the criminal justice system seem acceptable, justifiable and necessary — even heroic. The study found that the genre is also incredibly un-diverse in terms of creators, writers and showrunners: nearly all white”.
The USC report noted that data shows “scripted crime series depicted “Good Guy” criminal justice professionals committing wrongful actions far more than they depicted “bad guys” doing so. The likely result? Viewers feeling that those bad behaviors are actually not so bad, and are acceptable (even necessary) norms.”
The USC study correlates with a Sage Journal publication whose abstract states “We find that viewers of crime dramas are more likely to believe the police are successful at lowering crime, use force only when necessary, and that misconduct does not typically lead to false confessions.”
Marty Katz a retired sergeant with the Broward Sheriff’s Office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida wrote an article for Police One and included a list of things cops do not do in real life. I have pulled out a few of the more interesting ones.
Crime is not solved in one hour with eight commercials.
I never responded to a call with smoking tires and blaring up-beat music.
Investigations take time.
Detectives have a case load; they are not just assigned one case at a time.
I never saw a gun shot out of a suspect’s hand.
Crime scene personnel do not interview and arrest suspects.
There is a lot of paperwork for every action taken and it does not wait until the morning.
Bartenders are not usually pulled across the bar.
Jumping through a window is not a smart move.
Most of the time I drive without lights and siren.
State attorneys are never walking around the station house.
I have never had to make the choice between cutting the blue wire or red wire.
I have never jumped onto a moving car, bus, train or ship.
No one just walks onto a crime scene.
I have never seen someone lick their finger and state, “That’s cocaine!”
And my favorite: Female detectives do not wear high heels.
Hollywood is taking a hard look at themselves in the wake of the George Floyd killing. While I am sure we will see some changes, Hollywood is a business and what really matters is money, so most likely, any change will be a long wait and see process.
My Horoscope for today: A certain someone’s in financial trouble. Now’s a good time to make your way towards the nearest exit.
San Francisco weather: 64 degrees and cloudy
NYSE DOW opened at: 27488
NYSE DOW one year ago: 26169
Foreign word of the day: Pencil Sharpener
OED word of the day: calligram — A word or piece of text in which the form and layout of the letters creates a pictorial or ornamental design, esp. one related to the meaning of the words themselves
Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 151
Reading: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Reading slowly: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace / The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky / Same Sex Love 1700–1957 by Gill Rossini
Studying on line: History and Context of Russian Literature
My Black and White Picture of the Day
Something funny from the internet: