Copaganda has long plagued our television screens.
But when George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of the police led to a bit of a racial reckoning last summer (one that quickly petered out, by the way), many people began questioning the shows they watch and how copaganda had infiltrated their lives.
Copaganda, for those unfamiliar, is when TV shows and movies portray police officers as infallible heroes, sweeping the streets free of crime and catching the bad guys.
Nearly all cop shows portray things in black and white: cops are good and all potential criminals or suspects are bad. Copaganda gives us the false sense of belief that we can fully trust the police and that they can do no wrong.
Most shows have loyally stood by that trope, with only a few attempts to portray police officers otherwise. For example, Brooklyn Nine-Nine previously had one episode (“Moo Moo”) that tackled racial profiling and is now using season 8 to try to show how difficult it is to change the system. And while their efforts have been admirable (if not mostly fruitless), they’ve never touched on the topic of police brutality, an epidemic that plagues our nation.
In fact, as we look back on generations of cop and crime shows, there is really only one show in which the main characters have been perpetrators of police brutality: The Closer.
The Closer originally aired on TNT from 2005 to 2012. It featured the talented Kyra Sedgwick as the no-nonsense Brenda Leigh Johnson, Deputy Chief of Priority Murder (later renamed Major Crimes). In seven seasons, we watched as Brenda relentlessly manipulated, lied, and coerced confessions out of suspects.
Yet despite her often cruel and questionable interrogation methods, she was lauded by her colleagues for her ability “to close” nearly any case with a confession.
But Brenda’s methods weren’t the only horrifying thing to happen in her department. In fact, her squad often resorted to violence and almost always without consequence.
Take Sergeant David Gabriel. While interrogating a child rapist and murderer in season 3, Gabriel lost his temper and viciously beat the suspect to a pulp.
But instead of getting in trouble, Gabriel’s colleagues covered up for him. Commander Russell Taylor put the perp in general holding and told the inmates that he was a child rapist. The other inmates subsequently attacked the perp, covering up Sergeant Gabriel’s initial beating.
When Brenda discovered what had happened, she was understandably upset. But not because she was concerned for the suspect’s well-being, but rather because she was concerned for Gabriel. She ended up suspending him but no other action was taken. There was no Internal Affairs investigation and nothing went into his file. It was as if it never happened.
And then, of course, there’s Detective Julio Sanchez. Sanchez had anger issues and consistently attacked suspects upon arrest before they even made it to the precinct.
Sanchez viewed suspects as human scum, undeserving of chance at justice. And he treated them as such.
Yet, even as it became increasingly clear to Brenda and the squad that Sanchez’s anger issues were getting out of hand, they kept him on the streets. They took no action until they absolutely had to.
And even then, they did everything they could to protect him. Instead of firing him as they should have, they had him see a therapist and take anger management classes. Once he “passed” the requirements, he was let back on the streets again.
The Closer gave a real glimpse into how police precincts work and what their priorities are. It’s clear from the onset of the series that police are more worried about protecting each other than they are about protecting the public. They’ll do anything to cover up for each other, no matter how horrible the act.
Brenda and her team did finally have a bit of a reckoning. In a season 6 episode, Brenda and her squad dropped off a murderer into gang territory, knowingly bringing him to his death. Subsequently, an ambitious lawyer brought suit. He dug up all the times Brenda knowingly and purposefully put suspects in harm’s way (of which there were many incidents) and tried to make her accountable.
Of course, the police did everything they could to avoid a lawsuit, to protect their image, and to protect their officers. In the end, Brenda got nothing more than a slap on the wrist. That’s right — after seven years of callous actions that often led to the deaths of suspects and witnesses, she wasn’t fired. She basically got off scot-free.
And therein lies one of the most crucial parts in understanding the endless cycle of police brutality. This is why police reform is not possible. Because the police will always protect their own before they protect the public. There are no real consequences and there never will be.
If we have any hope of truly changing the system, we must destroy it and start from the ground up. Otherwise, history will just continue to repeat itself, again, and again, and again.