Brooklyn Nine-Nine has me thinking about superheroes. It’s making me remember a Superman panel where he’s talking to Nightwing — in a park, in the middle of the night — when a police officer comes upon them:
It’s a sweet moment. It says, “Remember the everyday heroes. They keep us safe, too.” And like last night’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine, it makes me happy and it makes me sad.
I eye officers in uniform with suspicion nowadays. I turn down the volume on my music or podcast. I grip my phone, making sure it’s ready to record. Is every cop bad? No, they’re just human. Humans can be good-hearted, helpful, and kind. They can also be suspicious, make mistakes, and hurt others.
Last night’s episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine has me thinking about all of this because they finally tackled the big, black and blue elephant in the room: racial profiling. Sgt. Terry Jeffords (Terry Crews) asks Detectives Peralta (Andy Samberg) and Santiago (Melissa Fumero) to babysit his twin daughters, Cagney and Lacey, so he can work on a city council liaison application. Later that night, when Terry is outside his house looking for a missing toy, he’s detained by a white cop. The cop forces him to the ground, cuffs him, and only releases him when Terry’s identity is finally checked.
Despite the humiliation of being profiled in front of his daughters, Terry doesn’t want to file a complaint. He wants to talk to the officer and help prevent it happening again to another black man. Terry meets with the cop at a nice restaurant — a great gesture of wanting to build friendship — and even gets an apology. There’s an invisible asterisk to the apology, though. The cop is only sorry for treating another cop badly; otherwise, he doesn’t think he did anything wrong.
After that admission, Terry decides it’s time to file a complaint, but his boss, Captain Holt (Andre Braugher), won’t file it. The rejection of the complaint upsets Terry so much that he goes to Captain Holt’s home to talk. he tells the captain this story: when he was just Little Terry, he wanted to be a superhero. One day some other kids were picking on him for wearing his cape when they suddenly ran the other way. Little Terry looked behind him and saw a policeman in his uniform. After that, Little Terry wanted to be a cop.
Then Terry tells Captain Holt that he’s happy he had daughters because that meant he didn’t have to tell his son what it means to be a black man in America.
Let that sink in.
In the 80s and 90s, “very special episodes” for sitcoms were common. The first one I can remember is an episode of Punky Brewster that was tied into Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Family Ties had one episode where a relative is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and another where Tom Hanks is the alcoholic uncle. The problems always affected guest stars. They were there for a week or two, were fixed, and never mentioned again.
When Brooklyn Nine-Nine premiered, Black Lives Matter had been formed in the wake of the Trayvon Martin murder trial. In the summer between its first and second seasons, Eric Garner was choked to death in Staten Island and Michael Brown was shot on the street in Ferguson, MO. Both were killed by police officers. Suddenly, a work place comedy about a squad of Brooklyn cops had a light pointed at it because it was a show about cops. For three seasons viewers waited for its very special episode.
My verdict on the episode is that it was refreshing. Instead of bringing a guest star in to be the profiling victim, they used a cast member. This time, the guest star was the biased cop. Plus, the writers chose the best character/cast member to use for the storyline.
Sgt. Jeffords shares a lot with the actor who plays him. Both are weight lifters and monitor their nutrition to aid their fitness regimens. Both are family men who love spending time with their kids (Crews bought an incredibly expensive pc gaming system to play along with his son.) Jeffords personality is calm and respectful; it takes a lot to make him angry. He dresses nicely, smiles a lot, and likes to get goofy. He’s the kind of person you hide behind for protection.
He could also be someone you’d hide from if you saw him alone at night on the street. He’s a tall, muscular man and, for some people, that’s a scary thing. Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s point is this: it’s okay to be cautious of tall, muscular people; but it’s not illegal, especially if they’re black. It’s a simple and important lesson.
By the end of the episode Captain Holt has changed his mind and filed the complaint against the officer. They suspect Terry didn’t get the liaison position because of the complaint, but they toast over a drink all the same. Just filing the complaint is progress. They decide to remain optimistic about the future of the NYPD.
I remain optimistic about the show because I know this topic won’t be one and done.