DVR Chronicles: United Shades of America – Protection Is Served

~Lorenzo Patrick (@smartspeak89)

“I have that natural fear of police that I think black people have instilled in them. Like, the same way I naturally fear mountain lions,” W. Kamau Bell says at one point during this week’s episode. “It’s just that I don’t have to call a mountain lion when I’m in trouble.”

Minorities have had a historically tough time interacting with police in America, to put it mildly. The relationship, most times, resembling what Bell described. The questions posed by this week’s episode are a.) How can the police go about mending this relationship, and b.)  how can the groups in question be more effectively served? Even though Bell is coming at the problem from a black perspective, this is still very much a problem for all brown-skinned people in this country.

The police brutality topic is a large one to cover. Much too large to do anything within an hour, which was why I was glad to see the episode focus more on how one proposed solution is working. “Community policing” is basically a stronger emphasis on officers getting to know the citizens they serve. They’re on foot more, which lends itself to more one on one engagement outside of emergency situations. Bell ends up spending a few days with the Camden Police Department, which is vigorously implementing this “community policing” campaign.  Interestingly  enough, community policing doesn’t always mean from the same community in this instance. Thanks to budget cuts, the residency requirement to be a police officer in Camden has been waived. They’ll still walk up and down the street, shake hands with your baby, pet your dog or maybe even play basketball against you. They just won’t be your neighbor.

In my opinion, the history of the relationship between police and minorities in America is bifurcated. On the one hand, there’s the history of police being the front end of the extension of slavery into 1942, and a part of the modern day prison-industrial complex. On the other hand, there’s a very real need for law and order in the high population areas which minorities tend to live. How to move beyond the former so communities can start addressing the latter is a complex question in the wake of incidents like Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. Once Camden actually has the budget to reenact the residency requirement to become a police office, there are signs that some of the tactics in this episode have a chance of mending fences. That only happens if all parties involved actually have something at stake in making that relationship work, which you don’t get when outsiders do the job. Here are a few other thoughts from this week’s show:

  • Spoke very briefly about the historical antagonisms between communities of color and agents of the law. Too briefly.
  • There’s an excellent example of what it means to be the “black friend” in a group setting in this episode.
  • Unfortunate that it’s an extension of the Camden PD public relations plan. However, it’s always cool to see the “Leave It to Beaver” patrol method attempted.
  • More could’ve been made of Camden axing the residency requirement to be an officer. The lack of funding for this really makes the effort look insincere at best.
  • The weeping at the crack house was a bit much. I get having kids changes the calculus  a bit, but that was gratuitous.
  • I’d love to know more about why the residency requirement was waived when it was decided to increase the size of the police force
  • The virtual reality machines Camden has to practice extreme scenarios is really cool, along with the Minority Report-inspired surveillance room.

Next week, Kamau Bell talks to people who have decided to go off the grid. I wonder if any did it in protest of ordering pizza online? United Shades of America airs every Sunday at 10 PM EST on CNN.

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