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Brooklyn Nine-Nine: depicting policing in the media

Updated: May 26, 2021

By Emma Frank

“Copaganda” is when media is centred around policing, ultimately glamourising or sympathising with the profession. It can come in the form of stories that depict police as heroes, fighting an evil through strategy and strength to maintain peace. Or alternatively, in any media that focuses on humanising characters who happen to be police showing the dogma “not all cops”. India, among many countries (e.g. Brazil, Venezuela, America), is known for its prolific array of fast paced heroic cop actions and has a pervasive and undeniable police brutality problem. However, use of media can shift public perception of police to people that should be idolised. “Copaganda” is often weaponised as a tool to draw those politically centred to the defence of police – harming those vulnerable who are continuously hurt by the justice system. Those who are swayed by this media are more willing to defend persecutors in the police force, blame victims of police brutality and subscribe to the dogma that it is just a “few bad apples” when we have been shown time and time again the justice system exists to maintain a status quo where minorities are oppressed. “Copaganda” is politically charged, even if produced on a subconscious level. Examples include RoboCop, Law and Order, Die Hard, and I’m sure a show that many of us have come to know and love: Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

In Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the shenanigans, and triumphs of the diverse cast of the police force can distract from the brutalities the very policing system causes. Likability does not prevail over a system which is inherently corrupt. I recall in June of 2020: many were quick to deem all cops corrupt, jokingly making exceptions for the fictional cast of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But what we forget is that in the run of the show the characters often abuse their power. In the episodes “The Box” and “48 Hours” Jake Peralta is shown detaining suspects against their will on account of personal bias …and what does he learn? That unlawful detention IS acceptable if you can prove the suspect’s guilt. Peralta often chooses to use excessive force for theatrics and is “endearingly reckless”. Another notable issue is Jake and Amy’s bet as to who can arrest the most perps within a year. This ultimately results in overcharging and excessively arresting low level offenders as a storytelling device to develop the shows main couples’ petty rivalry to romance.

Michael Schur (one of the show’s creators), has also had key roles in creating the sitcoms: The Good Place, Parks and recreation and The Office. Schur often develops his works in the frame of a “post-race utopia” (For more information on Schur’s post-race utopia watch T1Js video “diversity in the good place”). All the characters are equals and race often goes unacknowledged. This is fair – I understand not every portrayal of media must have politics at the forefront; many people watch tv to forget about politics. However, a “post-race utopia” creates an unsettling dynamic when Schur in Parks and Recreation, aims to shed light on an industry prolific in harming POC and failing in race relations: government work. Parks and Recreation is overly optimistic and is unwilling to commit to depicting the harm the government causes to the vulnerable in society; instead conflicts consistently concern individual characters. In an effort to make government work seem positive, they choose to ignore all institutions which dictate government work, revealing the harmful systems in place at the core of government. This is the same for Brooklyn 99, except in the episode Moo Moo.

Episode 16 of season 4, Moo Moo is IMBD’s 10th highest rated Brooklyn Nine-Nine episode, with an average rating of 8.9/10. Moo Moo concerns Terry, a black officer, who is wrongfully stopped by police in his own neighbourhood while picking up one of his daughters’ toys. The officer who stops him concedes when he realises Terry is also a cop. Terry seeks to report the incident, while Holt (the precinct Captain), an older black officer, advises not to report it for the sake of Terry’s career and “fighting the system from within”. The episode could have ended there; but Terry decided to meet with the officer. To the audience’s surprise, the offending officer was unwilling to apologise or admit racial profiling as he “wouldn’t have stopped him if he knew he was a cop”. Terry decides to report the incident and is passed over for the promotion he is seeking. This is a profound and realistic ending to the episode, which in my opinion is Brooklyn Nine-Nines best. Although, it is shocking that it took the show almost five seasons to address a topic as pervasive in policing as racial profiling.

Overall, I think Brooklyn Nine-Nine could have been a better show if they addressed the obvious issues in policing more often. In light of the many highly publicised deaths of victims of police brutality in 2020 onwards, the show’s creators have decided to end Brooklyn Nine-Nine after the eighth season. The eighth season will be just 10 episodes and centred on police brutality and the inevitable harm of the justice system. I believe this is the right thing to do. It is tone-deaf to continue a show Schur invented to sympathise with police workers in a time where more are murdered by police, and more are becoming aware of the need to abolish the justice system (or at least heavily reform it). Maybe after all the characters of Brooklyn Nine-Nine aren’t that bad: “good police quit their jobs” and Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s early conclusion solidifies this.

I cannot deny, I really like Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It’s funny, I enjoy the characters and it has always been a comfort show that I can sit down and watch to turn off my brain. Now, you may be asking is there anything wrong with consuming this media or “copaganda” overall? Well, not really, if it is consumed consciously. We must be aware of political intentions to prevent brewing prejudices and misconceptions about the role of police in our society. It is up to us to decide where to draw the line: do your own research, be aware of the agendas of showrunners and listen to minorities when they voice their concerns about certain media.

If you don’t know where to start in terms of racial justice, check out Colour of Change. Their website is easy to navigate, lists campaigns with what you can do to help, as well as accepts donations to the organisation.

Remember them all; George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Adam Toledo, Elijah McClain, Ahmoud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Sean Reed, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Dante Parker, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Ma’Khia Bryant and the countless others lost at the hands of the police. Say their names.

I would like to mention one of my favourite commentary youtubers, Shonalika, whose video on Brooklyn Nine-Nine I have essentially based this piece around, please check it out if you are interested.


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