Our society is in crisis. We are looking into our abyss on gender, and on race, and many of us don’t like what we’re seeing.
A month ago, Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger illegally entered the apartment of Botham Shem Jean and shot him dead. Except for “Dallas Police Officer,” this should have been a simple case: Guyger was an intruder, she shot a resident dead, it’s manslaughter at the least.
Instead, while Guyger was indeed charged with manslaughter, the system seems to be dragging its heels. Worse, there have been attempts to implicate Jean in his own death. Most notably, the police announced they’d found marijuana on his kitchen counter.
Time and again, police officers (often white) kill civilians (often black) for no clear discernable reason. This case is beyond the usual scope, given that Jean was in his own apartment. Guyger, who lives a floor away, claims she had simply gotten confused about which floor she was on.
Time and again, police departments bury evidence against the officers and push “evidence” against the deceased that would somehow mitigate the officers’ actions. Only occasionally (as with this month’s guilty verdict against Jason Van Dyke) is an officer found culpable.
But even the courts tend to favor the police: In the Malice Green case, for instance, where two Detroit police officers were found guilty of second-degree murder, Officer Walter Budzyn was granted an appeal on the grounds that the jury had been shown “Malcolm X” during a recess from deliberations.
The Guyger/Jean story was pushed to the back page when news broke that Dr. Christina Blasey Ford had accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault when the pair were in high school.
This was not an attempt to start a criminal investigation. While Maryland has no statute of limitations on rape, Ford’s motivation was to prevent a sexual predator from being confirmed to the Supreme Court.
The system that protected Guyger went into overdrive to protect Kavanaugh. Ed Whalen, a friend of Kavanaugh’s, quickly floated a theory that Ford had been assaulted, but not by Kavanaugh. He later retracted it, but by then, the damage had already been done. Even as the vote to confirm Kavanaugh was proceeding, Senators were relying on the idea that Ford, in her traumatized haze, was mistaken about the perpetrator.
While Whalen denies having been influenced by Kavanaugh or the White House, there’s a disturbing detail to the story: Whalen looked at Ford’s LinkedIn profile in the brief window between when the Washington Post shared her name with the White House and when the Post revealed her name in a published article.
This appears to have been a deliberate, orchestrated effort to protect a judge at the expense of sexual assault victims. Donald Trump’s own performance mocking Ford was, as a rarity, only a sideshow to the main circus.
The most prolific evening TV franchise of the last half-century is Law & Order. Two of its titles have been on for twenty seasons. As of this writing, its five shows have had a total of 1,122 episodes. In contrast, The Simpsons has had 639.
And Law & Order is not unique: Police and courtroom procedurals have been a consistent mainstay on TV. LA Law. Hill Street Blues. Perry Mason. CSI. Bull. Criminal Minds. And on and on.
Why? And why has Law & Order been so enduring?
It’s all in the opening line for the original show: “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: The police, who investigate crime, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories.”
We like to live in a fantasy where the police and the courts are both trustworthy. Where we can call the police and have our problems taken care of. Where the bad guys, and only the bad guys, will get consequences in prison.
It is a betrayal of that myth to see that the police and the courts are corrupt.
And yet, here we are. A white police officer kills a black man in his own home, and the police department’s first priority is to smear the man.
A man who has a reputation for being upstanding and sober (in both senses of the word) is accused by multiple women of being a sexual predator, and by multiple people as being an unrepentant drunk, and the system’s first priority is to smear the accusers.
This cuts deeply because it’s such a violation of trust.
Not that people of color have that trust: They’ve known, and they’ve told us for decades, that the police are not to be trusted. They shoot and assault people of color with impunity. But white people turn on Law & Order and pretend that’s how the system treats everyone.
Not that women have that trust: They’ve known, and they’ve told us for decades, that the courts are not to be trusted. They ignore victims of sex crimes. But men turn on Law & Order and pretend that it’s all okay. Olivia will save the day.
So who’s the “us” that trust the system?
White men, like Dick Wolf, creator of the Law & Order universe in which the police and the courts are impartial and dedicated to serving “the people.”
Turn off the TV and realize we’re being had.
Then take our systems and put them to proper use.