Friday, June 26, 2020

Rosa Diaz: The Face of Police Brutality

While it obviously is not anyone's top priority, many media observers have been wondering aloud about how Brooklyn Nine Nine will address the changing public perception of policing when it returns for its next season. Already, Terry Crews has suggested that several completed scripts have been scrapped as showrunners realize that they need to adapt. But it is going to be a very delicate line to walk. Since the show almost certainly is not going to return as a post office sitcom, it can't ignore the issue, or carry on as if the last few months haven't happened. Yet it probably can't do a full police abolition narrative, while if it takes a reformist approach it will be criticized for being too timid and out of touch.

As much as I love the show, I don't know if this is a hole it can write itself out of. But as I've thought about it, I keep on returning to one potential plotline:

Rosa Diaz gets kicked off the force for police brutality.

Now before I go further, I want to make two things clear.
(1) I adore Rosa Diaz. She's possibly my favorite character on the show. She's a queer icon. Stephanie Beatriz is a treasure.
(2) Rosa Diaz is definitely the main cast character most likely to physically abuse a suspect. Her whole character is based on her being violent, aggressive, and hot-tempered. She literally jokes about committing police brutality in the show's second episode!
It's not hard to imagine the scenario. Rosa is chasing a suspect through New York City alleys. She has to jump over dumpsters and garbage, she's hot, sweaty and frustrated. When she finally catches up with the guy at a dead end, she's basically snarling. And so even though he's cornered and not a threat, she takes him down -- hard. Which someone records, and it goes viral.

At this point, the squad divides. Jake, still hopped up on his childish notions on what it means to be a bad-ass cop, backs up his old friend from the academy; while Amy, in a new leadership position and more exposed to political fallout can't bring herself to defend Rosa's actions. Terry is sensitive to police brutality, having recently experienced a racist confrontation that nearly turned violent, and is surprised to learn that this is one area where Holt -- while not exactly approving -- is a man of his generation of cops, thinking that a rough take down of a suspect is business as usual and not worth getting riled up about. Hitchcock and Scully choose opposing sides for arbitrary reasons. Boyle is paralyzed by indecision.

Jake seizes on the notion that if he can prove the suspect really was guilty of a crime, Rosa's actions will be seen as justified. He works the case feverishly until he eventually discovers that the man Rosa injured had some drugs in his apartment -- a triumph, until Amy points out the obvious so what? So what if the guy smoked a few joints? Does that mean he deserved to be abused? Is Jake really going with "he's no angel"?

And so the resolution is not that Rosa is let off the hook, or learns a valuable lesson, or has the squad unite behind her. The resolution is that Rosa is fired from the NYPD (and, I imagine, written off the show).

Does it have to be Rosa? Could it be a random Nine Nine beat cop we had never seen before instead? No. It has to be Rosa, because it has to be someone we care about. The problem of police abuses is misjudged if it's viewed as the product of a few sadists hidden from public view. Those people exist, but the larger issue is that police abuse occurs by men and women who are in other respects normal, likable, courageous -- people who do good things, have friends who care about them and who care about others, people who in other contexts may do good or even heroic deeds. The Florida cop who attacked a peaceful protester, the one with 79 use of force complaints in three years? He also stopped a suicidal woman from jumping off a bridge. I bring this up not as an excuse -- just the opposite. It is to hammer home the gravity of the problem. This is the banality of evil at work; we deceive ourselves if we think it is a problem that is restricted just to some anonymous snarling monsters. We have to get used to the idea that police violence (like all injustices) are perpetrated by people who look familiar to us.

It has to be Rosa because it has to be someone who has already been fully fleshed out as a human, with the full array of human relationships and feelings and sentiments and history that humans carrying with them. It has to be someone we care about. Only that will give the issue the gravity it deserves.


David Lev said...

Can Rosa be fired, but not leave the show? Like, she's not a cop, but she does some sort of job that brings her into contact with the crew for whatever reason?

I also suspect that if this happened it would be heralded by some people, but plenty of people would 1) be uncomfortable with a bisexual woman of color being the person this happened to or 2) think it was not enough because the rest of the characters still exist to make police look warm and fuzzy (there are a lot of people on the internet who object to B99 specifically because it has police characters who are not open fascists)

Kereea said...

I second the issues noted y David, but also: writing a character out in an episode that is going to be controversial no matter what is usually a BAD idea, AND there's the small issue that Rosa's not a beat cop and therefore in less of a position to commit your standard for of physical police brutality. She's a detective. One thing that could happen is perhaps she gets preemtively assigned to desk work because the higher ups in the NYPD see her as a PR liability and she has to come to the realization that even if the higher ups only care about the PR of it, she can be a very bad cop and be overly brutal and cue character development and acceptance that maybe this new role IS better for both her and the community she serves.

jh said...

There are currently 6 men and 2 women on this show, and of the 6 men, 4 are white. And you want a bi Hispanic woman to be the one who brutalises instead of any of the 4 straight white men? I know that straight white male cops aren't the *only* ones who murder civilians, but let's not pretend that they are irrelevant here.

Ben said...

As a devoted B99 fan I love this premise in general: it's important to give this idea a horrible weight of impact, something that wouldn't happen in today's environment if the bad cop(s) in question were people or persons who were basically inserted into the story to contrast with our heroes (the way that the idiot uniform cop who racially profiled Terry a few seasons ago hasn't been seen or mentioned since then). There are ways this could apply to other regular characters as well: Boyle is so neurotic it would be genuinely shocking if he brutalized a subject, there's actually a good point of contrast element if either Hitchcock or Scully broke bad (like the cop David mentioned who was both brutal and saved someone's life, it would stand in relief to the powerful story last year when someone, I think Rosa, realized that they deliberately tanked a case to keep a witness from being identified and taken away by ICE), and Terry becoming a bad cop would be so stunning it would change the way the show played out forever. That being said, it seems pretty likely that the show isn't going to have any of its regulars turn into Derek Chauvin, because even with the huge changes they're considering B99 is going to remain a comedy.