Aaron Cantu talks about who profits and who loses when cop booster shows legitimize police violence.
Are there connections between social change, the political agenda of elected officials, and the kind of dramas we see on TV? When it comes to some TV police dramas, Aaron Cantu says there is. Since the mid-1960s, many crime dramas have adopted a very simple moral structure that reflects the growing fears of crime and social chaos – spurred in part by politicians like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush and their reactions to events like the Watts Riot in 1965, the threat of Soviet communism, or terrorism.
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TV shows like “Law and Order” and “Chicago P.D.” are the creations of Dick Wolf, whose track record of producing top-rated crime dramas started with “Miami Vice” in the 1980s. Wolf isn’t alone in producing these kinds of shows, but Cantu looks at the characters and storylines of “Chicago P.D.” and compares them with the actions of the real Chicago Police Department and their involvement in the torture of African-American detainees from the ’70s to the ’90s. The unorthodox and illegal acts by members of the Chicago police and including the infamous police commander Jon Burge, were detailed in a trial wherein Burge was found guilty of lying under oath, but not of the torture he engaged in. As Cantu writes about the intersection of the TV show “Chicago P.D.” and the illegal actions of the Chicago police, “The show features a team of intelligence officers who, like some of their real-life counterparts, torture suspects, circumvent civil liberties protections and keep tight-lipped about each others’ ‘off-duty’ violence against innocent people.”
Because of public support for punishing crime (support that comes from fear campaigns directed at voters by politicians), and, in the case of the Chicago Police Department, a complete disregard for the rights individuals arrested or detained by the police, whole populations become criminalized because of their proximity to the kind of crimes our society wants to see the full weight of the law punish. “Chicago P.D.” can be seen as reflecting what public opinion already thinks about crime, but the show also reinforces a “do what you gotta do” mentality that says it’s okay for the police to use illegal forms of violence in catching criminals.