How police television shows contribute to 'copaganda'

Confronting Brooklyn Nine-Nine's role in promoting a pro-police agenda

Shows about cops can be entertaining, but ultimately quite harmful.
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Cop media wrongly idealizes the police, regardless of how diverse it gets.

Though as a non-black POC I cannot speak directly to the experiences of Black individuals who are exposed to pro-cop media—known as ‘copaganda’—there’s no doubt its presence in mainstream media contributes to public perception of the police as untouchable heroes.

The hit comedy series Brooklyn Nine-Nine is widely regarded as a progressive piece of media. It’s been rightfully praised for its diverse cast and ability to handle sensitive issues—like racial profiling and the harsh realities of the American prison system—in a comedic and thoughtful manner.

But the core issue with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and any other self-aware copaganda, is that it neglects to address that ‘good cops’ are a rarity.

Even when cop shows discuss anti-Black racism in the force—which they rarely do—they frame the issue as solvable by so-called ‘good cops.’

But North American policing will be racist and colonial regardless of the number of good cops there are. Setting aside the fact that policing attracts violent and privileged people, systemic racism thrives regardless of whether or not there are racists in the system itself.

That’s why it’s, you know, systemic.

In Canada, policing began to aid in the colonization of Indigenous folks. When slavery was abolished after 200 years, the RCMP took on the duty of “exerting control” over Black Canadians, whom they viewed as inherently criminal.

At its roots, policing perpetuates the idea that enacting violence against racial minorities is excusable and, worse, a necessary side-effect to solving some of society’s most pressing issues.

So, why do we still view police as heroes?

Part of the problem can be attributed to copaganda, which makes us believe that cops are mostly good people capable of good things, to whom we owe gratitude.  

Copaganda idealizes the police and vilifies the marginalized.

Think back to any TV interrogation you’ve seen. When someone exercises a basic right—refusing to speak without presence of a lawyer, for example—they’re painted as suspicious.

Think about how anytime a cop violates basic rights, like lying to suspects or making an untimely arrest, they’re portrayed as a hero who’s justified in breaking the rules that exist to protect citizens.

Moreover, copaganda humanizes police to garner sympathy for this oppressive group. It shows you that cops are ordinary people with children and dreams—but it will never show you that those who are wrongfully imprisoned for non-violent offenses are also human.

Copaganda will tell you the war on drugs is effective when someone with no other choices in life is given an excessive sentence for dealing. It will paint the poor as delinquents that need to be kept in check.

Copaganda will make it seem okay when Jake and Amy compete for who can make the most arrests, allowing us to accept that the goal of policing is to imprison, not aid communities.  

Copaganda will make it seem okay for racists to take justice in their own hands. Copaganda will make this seem rational. It will make this seem commendable.

That’s true regardless of whether that cop on screen is gay or Black or a proud Latina woman.

We can’t afford to look at cops as heroes anymore. Even if they’re otherwise lovely people, they’re part of a system that only exists to oppress racial minorities.

Copaganda has to go. And if that makes you upset—if it makes you feel like you ‘can’t enjoy anything anymore’—ask yourself why a piece of entertainment is so important to you.

Ask yourself why it’s more important than taking down a system that both directly and indirectly decimates Black and Indigenous lives every day.

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