Locked in the house for the past three months, the average worried but bored American has been forced to watch TV for daily doses of sometimes informative, humorous, even elucidating programming, but more often mind-numbing or truly offensive “entertainment” content of every imaginable form.
Up to and after the death of George Floyd at the hands of white former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who killed Floyd by planting his knee on the neck of the laid out and handcuffed African-American man for nearly nine minutes, ratings for two perennially popular but utterly repulsive TV shows — “Live P.D.” on A&E, and “Cops,” distributed by Paramount Network, owned by ViacomCBS and featured on a number of stations offered on our local Spectrum cable provider’s daily content menu — were through the roof.
Both shows routinely portray violent, degrading and inhumane treatment of African Americans and other people of color who cross paths with law enforcement agencies from around the country, police officers essentially treating dirt-poor black “suspects” like garbage, like subhuman beings. Not so much with “Live P.D.,” but on “Cops” too many scenes end with the swarming of a single man, throwing the often shirtless or shoeless suspect to the ground facedown, punching his head while barking orders to “stop resisting,” then from behind putting their knees on his head, neck, back and legs — often finally tasering the man to make him submit to handcuffing.
And what is accomplished by all this? The discovery of a dime bag of weed in an empty cigarette pack, in assbackward places in the South where marijuana for any type of use is still illegal, or small amounts of cocaine and crystal meth, or a knife, or maybe a gun. Yes, that’s usually all they get. Sometimes they find nothing at all. Most importantly, though, these “Cops,” apparently by any means necessary, get their man, who by the time they’re finished beating him up is a battered wreck, unable to say anything, let alone something incriminating or even remotely exculpating.
In Pasadena, this may sound all too familiar to PW readers. The above mentioned scenario is much like what happened in an incident involving Altadena’s Chris Ballew in November 2017. Ballew, 21 at the time, was pulled over in his late-model Mercedes with tinted windows by two Pasadena officers, and then thrown to the ground on his stomach with his face slammed into the asphalt and his head punched by a cop sitting on top of him. Ballew was then beaten from behind with a metal night stick by one of the two Pasadena cops who arrested.
Ballew suffered a broken leg and numerous other injuries before being taken into custody. Only he had neither weapons nor drugs in his possession. His crime: driving with tinted windows, and apparently having the temerity to ask why he was being pulled over.
It wasn’t until cell phone footage from an anonymous person became public that charges against Ballew were dropped and the city, the department and the two cops were sued in federal court, where the case is still wending its way through the system. The two officers who did this are still with the department, despite repeated calls for them to be fired.
Variety reported Friday that A&E would not air new episodes of “Live P.D.,” which has been on TV for four years and is the network’s top-rated show.
As for “Cops,” which started on FOX 1989, Paramount Network finally canceled the show Tuesday, the day after it was to premiere its Season 33, according to The New York Times.
Paramount seems to be aware of the very negative images — the cop porn — they have been distributing around the country. As Variety reported, “Paramount Network owner ViacomCBS made headlines earlier this week when on (June 1) the company’s cable networks went dark for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time that the Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on Floyd’s neck, killing him in the process.”
It’s nice to see these two networks doing at least something good with respect to what happened to Mr. Floyd — that is something other than further widening the social and cultural fissures between minorities and law enforcement that they have helped create through their selectively deceptive “reality TV” programming.
It would have been nice if they had pulled the plug on “Cops” on Thursday, not Tuesday, so this column, which I started writing Saturday night, might claim some part of this victory. But that’s OK, just as long as “Cops” is finally off the air.
Kevin Uhrich is editor of the Pasadena Weekly. Contact him at email@example.com.