Cancelation of Cop Shows Signals a Cultural Shift in Glorifying Police Violence

For more than a decade, the racial justice organization Color of Change led a push to cancel the long-running TV show “Cops,” which glorifies police aggression. Now the show has been cancelled, along with A&E’s “Live PD.” “The thing about these shows is that they call themselves reality programming, but they are only from the vision of the police officers,” says Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change. “These shows have served as a PR arm for law enforcement.” He is now calling on Netflix to cancel “Border Security: America’s Front Line.”

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Rashad Robinson. He is head of Color of Change, which has led a campaign to cancel the TV program Cops. And it has happened. After 33 years, the reality TV show has been canceled.

INNER CIRCLE: [singing] Bad boys, Whatcha want, whatcha want, Whatcha gonna do, When Sheriff John Brown come for you?

POLICE OFFICER: Keep your hands on the car. I’m doing my job.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Rashad Robinson, in 2013, Color of Change launched a campaign to cancel Cops. The show also led to the A&E channel’s show Live PD, which has also been canceled now, after widespread protests against police abuse and racism.

Live PD was filming a year ago, when Javier Ambler died after police in Austin, Texas, repeatedly tased him during a traffic stop, while Ambler told the officers, “I have congestive heart failure,” “I am not resisting,” “I can’t breathe.” Ambler was pulled over after he allegedly failed to dim his headlights to oncoming traffic. So, Live PD was right there filming, an entertainment show. The footage was never publicly released. And now they say it was erased. So that’s two stories here: Cops canceled and Live PD canceled.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah. I mean, so both of these were just shows that we pressed and pushed on. In 2013, we got the show canceled from Fox, only to a couple of months later it just sort of end up in syndication. And if anyone knows about sort of media campaigns, it’s a little tougher to deal with syndication deals and track them and try to get them sort of removed. But getting it off of primetime on Fox was important.

You know, the thing about these shows is that they call themselves reality programming, but they are only from the vision of the police officers. And Live PD is a perfect example of how the reality would have been — right? A real reality show would have shown all the ways in which those police officers violated their responsibility. There would have still been footage. But these shows have served as a PR arm for law enforcement.

I remember the conversation we had with Fox back in 2013. And they sort of talked to us and said, “Well, you know, we could diversify some of the images that we are showing.” And I sort of instantly thought — I was like, “If you’re telling us that you’re going to show more poor white people, and that’s supposed to make us happy as a racial justice organization, then you picked the wrong racial justice organization, because, let me be very clear, unless you’re going to show cops — unless, by diversifying, you’re going to show cops on Capitol Hill or Wall Street or some places where crime happens that really impacts us on a deep, structural level, then I’m not really interested in you going into poor communities that have been targeted by the ‘war on drugs,’ by austerity, by an unfair tax structure, and bring cameras and show people at their very worst for our own entertainment, while we don’t do anything to actually build the type of structures and invest in those communities afterwards.”

And so, these shows that present one side only as the hero and the other side only as the villain, for our entertainment and for corporate profits, have to go. And we’re happy that they have — that these networks have finally woken up. A&E was a network that we have been pushing around this show for a while. Cops is finally off the air. Netflix has this show about border patrols that actually has to go, as well.

And this is part of a larger set of work that we’re doing at Color of Change. It’s not all about canceling, right? We recognize that people want to be entertained, and there’s all sorts of ways in which the public actually needs to have more stories about how police actually do operate. Let’s actually tell the full story of how our communities are treated and the narratives that hurt us.

But at ChangeHollywood.org, we actually did a full report on the 22 crime procedural shows, the sort of narrative dramas, the Law & Orders and SVUs and Chicago PDs — these shows that have so much diversity on air but all-white writers’ rooms; these shows that — where race exists in their world, but racism seems not to exist; where they have more Black judges on those shows than ever existed in the real world, but those judges sort of act as symbolic stand-ins for white writers to send messages of justice through elderly, stately Black people who are symbols but actually don’t have back stories.

And so, all of this is part of a recognition that as much as we are working to change the written rules of policy of how we are treated and how criminal justice is delivered in our community and how policing happens, we have to change those unwritten rules of culture in all of those narratives, because, as I said before, while violent crime has gone down the last 20 years, according to Pew Research —

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Rashad Robinson

RASHAD ROBINSON: — Americans believe it’s going up.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Rashad, I’m so sorry to interrupt you.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Rashad, I’m so sorry to interrupt you.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We just have a minute left, and we do want to —

RASHAD ROBINSON: Sure.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: — talk about the issue of corporate co-optation.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Yeah.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In particular, now there’s a campaign asking that advertisers boycott Facebook. You have raised concerns especially about BlackRock. Could you talk about your concerns about these corporations coming out ostensibly in support of Black Lives Matter protests? Go ahead.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Well, yeah. I mean, these companies are saying Black lives matter, but all their policies and practices make it clear that they don’t actually think Black lives do matter. We’ve worked and pushed Facebook for the last several years to enact policies around content moderation, around lying, around all the ways of harassment impacts our communities.

Facebook has 2.3 billion users. That’s more followers than Christianity. And Mark Zuckerberg is a private person who operates a public square. BlackRock has so many sort of connections to law enforcement in terms of sort of their investments and uses its resources in ways that actually keep the hands on the scale of corporate power, that really prevent Black people from being able to grow our communities in the ways that we should.

These corporations and so many others have to do more than simply say Black lives matter. They have to actually change their policies and practices, if they want to be on the right side of history here. And we’re not going to accept presence in this moment, visibility, shout-outs from the stage. The only thing that we’re going to truly accept is a changing of the rules that have far too often held us back and benefited so few people.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much, Rashad Robinson, for joining us.

RASHAD ROBINSON: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: President of Color of Change. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. When we come back, the use of tear gas around the world and what’s happening in Seattle. Stay with us.