7.11 million viewers
What it is: A Chicago-set NBC police procedural which has somehow been on for four years now, who’da thunk it? Part of the Chicago franchise, which also includes Chicago Fire, Chicago Med and the upcoming Chicago Justice. In this episode, the protagonists investigate the rape and murder of a young woman in a local park, and end up pursuing two black teens who are given sanctuary in a nearby church.
Got to admit I was kind of excited to check out Chicago P.D. after seeing this article about how it glorifies police violence. A network show about Chicago cops would seem to be fertile ground for reactionary moralizing in our current cultural moment, given President Trump’s tendency to rant about the “horrible ‘carnage'” going on in that city. This sort of thing is an incarnation of the conservative/racist technique of deflecting concerns about racial discrimination by saying the real problem is black-on-black crime, a more convenient issue to pretend to care about since it casts black people as the villains even if they’re also the victims. As this tweet points out, it’s a tactic that dates back at least to Emmett Till’s murder.
As it turns out, Chicago P.D. goes out of its way to emphasize how un-racist its cops are, and uses their fantastically admirable un-racism as justification for the rampant abuse of their power. As expected, it presents a pretty stark contrast to the sympathetic but implausible ethical hand-wringing of Blue Bloods. I’m going to go through this episode’s plot in some detail, so be forewarned if you’re worried about spoilers for a weeks-old installment of a network cop show.
So about halfway through the episode the cops get ahold of the teens after the church gets firebombed, and around the same time they gather enough evidence to realize that the teens aren’t actually guilty. But heroic show regular Sergeant Hank Voight still insists on keeping the teens locked up so that the real killer doesn’t know they’re looking for him, to the consternation of the priest who was protecting the boys because he was concerned about how the cops would treat them, a concern that would seem to be vindicated at this point even though you’re still supposed to think he’s an irritating lib getting in the way of cops trying to do their job.
The real killer turns out to be a weaselly white park worker who starts off his interrogation by continuing to try to pin the crime on the teens. But Voight sets him straight, saying there’s nothing he hates more than when people try to use black kids as a scapegoat. See, despite the misconceptions you libs might have about cops, Voight is very very NOT racist. What a great guy! Then he gets the park worker to confess by twisting an arm the dude injured while getting arrested. This torture has no function in the plot; the cops clearly have enough evidence to nail the guy without a (worthless, coerced) confession. It’s presumably there because the Chicago P.D. writers know they have to give their viewers what they want, i.e. the opportunity to watch their surrogates inflict pain on powerless people.
After the worker confesses, Voight lets the teens go, and as they’re being let out of their cell they look at him like they’re thinking maybe this guy isn’t so bad after all, if he’s so generous as to grant us the enviable privilege of no longer being locked up for a crime we didn’t do. Then they thank him for catching the real killer, because this show exists in the fevered daydreams of a Fox News addict.
On a lighter note, this episode also features a minor subplot in which Kevin, the black cop (yes, as far as I can tell there is only one), does stand-up at an open mic. It’s always fun when drama writers have to script comedy performances, since the jokes they come up with are never funny but they still have the audience react as though the material is Richard Pryor-level brilliant. Kevin, for example, gets his biggest laugh when he says that black people do their grocery shopping at 7-Eleven. (They’re like half-Indian-half-Japanese people in that way.) Then he does a bit about encountering some cops and instinctually running away, which is funny because he is a cop, himself. But then he proves he can do deep social commentary, too, by hopefully predicting that “One day it ain’t gonna be like that, for any of us.” In this show’s ideal world, though, that won’t be because cops have given people any less reason to fear them, but because no one will be so disrespectful as to run away.