Last week, Alyssa Rosenberg offered a simple, easy, and completely rational way to address the problem of police brutality: “Shut down all police movies and TV shows. Now.”
She’s getting one part of her wish, as the half-hour reality program Cops is now canceled after 32 years. The New York Times contends the show “glorified” police, and it certainly didn’t portray them in a bad light. But as I wrote last Friday, the program often made police work look like a particularly sad or bleak realm of existence. Did Cops make young viewers want to become police officers? Or did it make police work look like a depressing succession of domestic-disturbance calls, separating warring partners who were often struggling with poverty, addiction, mental illness, unemployment, or other problems not easily solved with a badge and a gun? Did the arrested suspects more often look menacing and malevolent, or more often look like sad, wretched, pitiable, walking encyclopedias of problems — Americans who had struggled and largely failed at life, and had few prospects for turning their lives around? If the concept of rehabilitation or corrections was never a theme or discussed element on Cops, was that the fault of the show, or of the criminal-justice system as a whole?
It is remarkable that Cops will depart the airwaves in part because of the belief that having camera crews ride along with police officers is somehow enabling police brutality.