This is my story as to why I’m so opposed to “COPS”…

As a child of a formally lower class neighborhood, I witnessed the community I grew up in evolve into what many would consider an undesirable neighborhood, due to years of a stagnant minimum wage, inadequate social support, drugs, and prostitution. I go back to visit twice a year, and as I sit on my mom’s porch I can see the behind the scenes version of what “COPS” never shows play out in real-life right before me and it breaks my heart. “COPS” takes that pain from communities that are calling out for help and exploits it for their own economic gain.

I’ve always been against the exploitation of the most vulnerable among us, the Black, Brown, and Native, the poor, mentality ill, and drug addicted, and that’s why I’m against “COPS”. They provide no assistance to these individuals and communities, they just use them.

The “COPS” cameras are not news cameras of course, so unlike a traditional news crew, the shows’ producers have to obtain the written legal consent of every suspect whose face appears on camera. The producers of “COPS” claim they do, but it has been found that these consents are often coerced. It’s not too far-fetched to think that the police and producers, troublingly, worked together to get those signatures, in the spirit of “The Show Must Go On.” I suggest that the Spokane sheriff department be transparent with their letters of consent from all the individuals that have appeared on previous episodes. How often were the knowingly inebriated, drug addicted, or mentally ill of our community coerced into signing a consent form?

And why is it that our sheriff’s department struggles with providing their force with body cameras, but will allow a camera crew from “COPS”? Well, we all understand what we see is the officers on their best behavior when they have the starring role. You know: good attitude, respectful, empathetic and professional — they are allowed to control the narrative for their own purposes. This ability — to craft their own policing message, across the enormous viewership of national television is very problematic for our shared culture.

In the aftermath of George Floyd and Brianna Taylor, the sheriff department wants to continue the myth that “COPS” real goal is depicting the “real men and women of law enforcement,” while in actuality offering a heavily edited dramatization. The entertainment industry has an insidious, though unmistakable, influence over how the public thinks about policing. It is necessary for people to understand how long and how thoroughly “COPS” and shows like it have habituated tens of millions of people to the police abuse of black, brown, and poor communities. Increasingly comfy in this sewer of misrepresentation, legions of viewers were numbed to the overdue need for police reform.

To enjoy “COPS” is to relish seeing black, Latinx, Native and poor people harangued, choked, slammed, shot at, and handcuffed by police officers, with no meaningful context or resolution to any given human being’s situation, whether it be mental illness, substance addiction, or wrongful accusation. Weekly footage exhilarated viewers through jerky body cams capturing men of color getting snared and engrossed them with narrative idolatry lavished on white “COPS”. All of this reflected and abetted structural flaws in law enforcement, as well as racial and class bias in the criminal justice system.

Studies have shown that the police officers appearing on “COPS” are overwhelmingly white, and the disproportionately few white offenders portrayed are shown committing nonviolent offenses. “COPS” in essence leads white viewers to believe that crime is more prevalent than it actually is; that black people commit more crime than they actually do; that the public is more likely to be victimized than they actually are; and that police “intuitions” and biases are better at helping to catch perpetrators than they actually are. As one of the most iconic reality shows in television history, “COPS” served for three decades as a shadow advertising campaign for racist and brutal policing tactics.

This demonstrates why entertainment activism is just as necessary and worthwhile as policy activism. The culture industry, hand in glove with the state, has for decades mobilized to surveil, assault, and cage black and brown people. The country gorged itself on brutal, racially charged reality TV as it turned its eyes from mounting evidence of police brutality in real life. Yet entertainment activism is demonstrably different than police reform, because policing is presumably a public service supposedly accountable to democracy, whereas Hollywood is a business accountable mostly to the bottom line. How do people of color confront a capitalist enterprise that, like physical white spaces, is seething with our presence? We need folks to speak out.

If the Spokane Sheriff Department wanted to be a conduit for change, they would donate any financial gains they have derived from the show over the years and reinvest them back into underserved communities to help the less fortunate. As a community we should demand this, and not continue to allow the police to create a false narrative that perpetuates harm in our community. There should be public discussion about the ethics of these partnerships, about the legality of the actions taken by officers and whether the nature of these policing shows still fits our evolving standards and our values.

There is a reason these shows have been pulled from the air nationwide, why are we still allowing their presence to remain in our community?

You can share how you feel by getting in contact: or (509) 477-2240

For more information on this topic:
Listen to the podcast, “Running from “COPS”
Or read, “How does the reality TV show “COPS” stack up with real-life crime figures?”

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