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Race and Economy

Is this the end of police reality shows?

Jasmine Garsd Jun 11, 2020
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A police line tape at a crime scene. The reality shows "Cops" and "Live PD" have been canceled, and activists are criticizing the genre. Larry W. Smith/Getty Images
Race and Economy

Is this the end of police reality shows?

Jasmine Garsd Jun 11, 2020
Heard on:
A police line tape at a crime scene. The reality shows "Cops" and "Live PD" have been canceled, and activists are criticizing the genre. Larry W. Smith/Getty Images
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The reality shows “Cops” and “Live PD” have been canceled amid nationwide protests against police brutality following the police killing of George Floyd.

For decades, some critics considered them the bottom of the barrel of American TV. “Cops” premiered on Fox in 1989. It was very cheap to make and one of the network’s most profitable shows. 

Brandi Collins-Dexter, senior campaign director at Color of Change, a nonprofit that has been protesting the show for years, said, “It sort of depicts an alternative reality from what everyday Black people experience, in a way that paves over the harms, or justifies the harms, that happen in Black communities.”

“Cops'” success paved the way for “Live PD,” a similar show. Since “Live PD” debuted in 2017, it’s ad revenue grew by around 130%.

Miki Turner, assistant professor of professional practice at the University of Southern California, said that in these shows, “cops were presented as people who were … there to save the day.”

And yet, earlier this week, reports surfaced about Javier Ambler, a Black man who died in custody in 2019 after being stopped by Texas police for failing to dim his headlights. He had been tazed. 

The “Live PD” crew was filming. The footage never aired and was destroyed.  

Gray Cavender, emeritus professor of justice and social inquiry at Arizona State University, said these shows have cozy relationships with law enforcement.

“We see a lot of things on ‘Cops,’ ” Cavender said. “But we don’t see Rodney King. We don’t see George Floyd, or Freddie Gray, or those kinds of things.”

Activists say canceling “Cops” and “Live PD” is a start. But cop dramas are still being made. Police critics say they should also show the bigger picture.

Including bad officers.

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