The recent police killing of George Floyd has propelled some of the actors — past and present — of NBC’s “One Chicago” series (“P.D.,” “Fire,” “Med”) to take to social media to encourage their followers to educate themselves on social justice issues.
Actor Nick Gehlfuss, who plays Dr. Will Halstead on “Chicago Med,” posted the #GeorgeFloyd hashtag while quoting actor Will Smith saying, “Racism is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Filmed.”
Two alumnae, Sophia Bush (Erin Lindsay) of “Chicago P.D.” and Monica Raymund (Gabriela Dawson) of “Chicago Fire,” posted their support for #BlackLivesMatter — specifically, Breonna Taylor, a Louisville, Kentucky, first responder killed by police who executed a no-knock warrant, and encouraged their followers to vote in the aftermath of protests over police killings.
“Chicago P.D.” cast member LaRoyce Hawkins (Kevin Atwater), a Harvey native, is also urging his followers to vote and support #BlackLivesMatter.
“Chicago Fire” cast member Miranda Rae Mayo (Stella Kidd) tweeted the hashtags #DefundThePolice, #JusticeForGeorgeFloyd and #BlackLivesMatter, among others.
But while the actors are promoting justice, some viewers believe the fictional world they live in does not.
Earlier this year, Color of Change, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization, and USC’s journalism school authored “Normalizing Injustice,” a study detailing how television plays a major role in how police and systemic issues are viewed by consumers.
“Chicago P.D.” was cited among the series in which “wrongful actions were presented as ultimately good and forgivable actions on the part of ‘good guys’ in noble pursuit of the ‘bad guys’ and any limitations or accountability for those actions would only impede the pursuit of justice and the ability of [people in criminal justice] to keep good people safe.”
Amid the international protests by concerned citizens outraged by Floyd’s death, TV series depicting police are being scrutinized for a tendency to depict the officers solely as heroes — a practice critics dubbed “copaganda.” Two series tagged with that label — A&E’s “Live PD” and the Paramount Network’s “Cops” — already have been pulled from the air.
“One of the reasons we’re seeing so many cop shows under observation now and then shows like ‘Cops’ being canceled and other kinds of dialogue about the advocacy of cop shows is that the social reality we live in doesn’t match the media texts that we watch,” said DePaul University media professor Paul Booth. “Very few cop shows deal significantly with issues of racial disparity and policing.
“Very few of them [TV series] deal with police brutality, and if they do, it’s either like a very special episode, or the cops are the protagonists and we still uphold them and we still trust them — something like ‘The Shield.’ ”
The “One Chicago” actors could not be reached for comment, but “Chicago P.D.” actress Marina Squerciati has discussed a 2016 episode where her character, Officer Kim Burgess, shot a Black teenage suspect in the back.
“We’re a Chicago show, and to not touch the third rail [police brutality and race] would be kind of ludicrous,” Squerciati told TV Guide in 2016. “We’re at the epicenter of what’s going on between, unfortunately, ‘Blue vs. Black,’ which is a phrase that we use in the show. ... It’s very important to sort of figure out how the two can come together and how they can work together, and what’s gone wrong.”
Like many of her “One Chicago” colleagues, Squerciati also has used her platform to speak to social justice issues.
Wendell Pierce, a cast member of the critically acclaimed 2002-08 HBO series “The Wire,” tweeted a response to a The Hollywood Reporter article that focuses on TV’s struggle with an accurate depiction of police brutality; “The Wire” was the main subject.
Pierce, tweeted in part, “How can anyone watch “The Wire” and the dysfunction of the police & the war on drugs and say that we were depicted as heroic. We demonstrated moral ambiguities and the pathology that leads to the abuses. Maybe you were reacting to how good people can be corrupted to do bad things [.] … The critique here is that television seems to follow behind the current events of the day. I would ask that you consider that maybe ‘The Wire’ was a precursor to the discussion that is mandatory now. It was an indicator, a warning light, of the implosion we are feeling today.”
Cheryl Dorsey, a retired Los Angeles police department sergeant and author of the book “Black and Blue: The Creation of a Social Advocate,” has no interest in watching cop shows because she says she “lived” it during her 20 years as an officer.
“There’s a segment of society that likes this kind of reality television, if you will,” said Dorsey. “There’s certainly many people that support the police and think that police are doing a great job and, by and large, I’m [a] part of that. I think the ones that are misbehaving are in the minority. And I think given reality TV shows, people are voyeurs, and like being behind the scenes watching what goes on.”