A few days ago, a police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. He was unarmed, his apparent crime walking in the street with a friend instead of on a sidewalk. Citizens in Ferguson congregated in justifiable anger to protest, and they were met with a police response of jaw-droppingly draconian proportions. Tanks and tear gas were rolling through the streets. Air traffic was been shut down to limit press access, and reporters were detained for no reason. At every turn, the police escalated the situation, and looting and clashes between them and citizens peppered the city. This was happening this week. In 2014. In America. But if you’re shocked at all by this, it’s only because you haven’t been paying attention.
Wednesday, a movie called Let’s Be Cops hit theaters. The title alone would make it the most unfortunately ill-timed release of the year, but given the film’s dismal reviews, there’s likely no good time for it to have come out. Again, while Ferguson is an awful exemplar of race-related police brutality on a massive scale, there are no shortage of such incidents to pick from. American culture’s goofy cartoon trope of policeman in comedy films becomes garish when set against the reality. And it’s not as if our dramas do any favors to the realities of those who live in constant fear of law enforcement. Pop culture, for the most part, glorifies the myth of a brotherhood of noble officers facing down monsters in the streets. Depictions of police brutality are few and far between.
So forget Let’s Be Cops. Worthless entertainment can be harmless, but in a time like this, where we’re finally forced to confront some unfortunate realities about life in America, if only for a moment, we need to edify ourselves. To that end, watch Jason Osder’s Let the Fire Burn, and understand that black people acting en masse provoking a disproportionate response from law enforcement is not a new phenomenon at all.