Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Angry Black Man: Law and Order Rage

Okay. It's no secret I hate Law and Order: SVU, but I thought original recipe was better. Then I started watching season 5 of "Original Recipe" and saw the slide into all the things I hate about SVU.  My hatred crystallized into a loathing rage, when I saw the episode ... "Rage".

Original Recipe vs SVU

I liked the lawyers in early Law and Order. Ben Stone and Paul Robinette made it a point that their office was to ignore the political ramification of their cases and prosecute according to the law. The overall thesis of the show was that the law is to be blind, and that as flawed as the legal system is, its ordered collective justice protects us from the chaos of individuals' vengeance. The show would often have a morally reprehensible victim, but would say, "Look. The victims and the witnesses aren't on on trail. The jury, (and by extension the audience) is only to establish if the defendant committed the crime for which they are accused. Nothing more or less than that."

To make it clear

  • Discover a Crime
  • Interview Suspects and Gather Evidence As To Who Committed Said Crime
  • Arrest and Accuse Prime Suspect
  • Prosecute According to the Law
Now I understand in real life things are not always that simple, but real life isn't written. I forgot who said it or some form of it, but real life has the luxury of being unbelievable. Fiction doesn't.

In SVU things go like

  • Discover a crime
  • Interview Suspects and Gather Evidence As to Who Committed Said Crime
  • Arrest and Accuse Prime Suspect
  • Find Out a Tangential Thing That May or May Not have Indirectly Caused the Crime
  • Declare There Should Be a Law
  • Arrest Tangential Non-suspect

  • Offer Prime-suspect a Deal For Testifying Against Tangential Non-suspect 
  • In Lack of an Actual Law Do Legal Back-flips to Convict Tangential Non-suspect

My point is SVU does all of that normally to make some clumsy social statement. Normally I'd just call it bad writing but uh uh now their on my turf. The complicated muddled area of race relations, and racial justice. I'm not going to lie early L&O  made social commentary as well but it did it competently. It was more nuanced largely because of Paul Robinette.

Paul Robinette: A Case Study on Post Civil Rights Racial Politics

He's black. It's a part of his character. A big part of his character, furthermore he has a job that does on occasion deal with race.  Yet he and his views are complicated, creating nuanced portrait of how race affects this country.

In "Subterranean Homeboy Blues" he's visibly unnerved when doing background research on a possibly racially motivated shooting. He's struggling to reconcile the truths that yes some crimes are perpetrated by blacks and that people and "The People" have the right to reasonably defend themselves against criminals, but at the same time society and individuals should not assume and react to young black men as an immanent threat. He feels the defendant is a racist but as much as he hates to admit it, also somewhat sympathizes with her fear after learning the history of the victim.


The case is more complicated than saints and sinners.

In "Out of the Half-Light" when a Black congressman more or less calls him an Uncle Tom for squashing a flimsy case(hoax) he was using to up-heave the ... white legal system. Robinette's response is
At times the system stinks Eaton. I know that as well as you do, but don't for one damn minute tell me that your self-aggrandizing polarization is going to solve the problem. Don't tell me that tearing down a 200 year old justice system, no matter how flawed is going to alter the consciousness of a society.

We're past the separate drinking fountain stage. We're past the legal discrimination stage. We're at the hearts and minds stage and believe me there's no quick fix. Your intentions might have been good but your execution stunk.
Paul Robinette represented a young black generation trying to come to terms with the fact that their lives were affected by a corrupt system of disenfranchisement that was slowly being abolished and that the injustices of that system could no longer be considered the sole cause for the plight of the black man. In order for there to be equality under the law, we had to take personal responsibility for our actions.

Furthermore, he also represented the truth that law cannot affect people's thoughts, and in a modern context subtle, covert and subconscious racism may be more of a problem than the overt racism our fathers and grandfathers faced.

That Law and Order was smart. I liked that Law and Order.

What's worse than infantilizing my people is making the assumption we want to be infantilized. In the story a man commits two ... three crimes I find utterly repugnant.

  • Stock Market Fraud (Maybe it's because I'm living in a post '08 world, but damn I have some strong feelings on the matter.)
  • Killing a Guy to Cover Up The Fraud
  • Tampering With Evidence to Make It Look Like a Suicide

His defense; the covert racism of his work environment neigh this entire society made him do it. Bull and shit. Don't get me wrong his coworkers are racist as hell, but come on. Furthermore it's written in a way that makes it seem like a black audience would buy that. It's damn near, no not damn near, it is, insulting. It's like saying my people literally want a magic get out jail free card by virtue of being Black. That we feel no matter what we, do it's excusable because society keeps the Black man down. Da fuck!

Look. Racism exists.  The effects of racism exist. For a very long time in this country's history and even today in various geographical regions minorities are underprivileged. Raising your hand and saying these things doesn't mean that you're saying that  African-Americans should abdicate all personal responsibility for their actions. And it pisses me off all the more because I know the show knows better.

I used to like you Dick Wolfe.

P.S.  Why Wendell Pierce? You played in one of the most well written television shows to deal with racial politics ever.  Hell you did it twice.  Your dialogue here is painful.  

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