Remember the scene in the “Shaft” remake when John Shaft, the private dick, collars a dealer named Malik and pistol-whips him? Shaft leaves Malik bloodied and disoriented.
No, Shaft wasn’t a cop anymore. He’d quit after seeing the privileged treatment a rich white boy got for killing a Black man.
I might have quit too had I been Shaft, one bad mother——. Shut yo mouth!
Of the three versions of Shaft movies, I liked this one most. I thought Jackson and Vanessa Williams played off each other well, and Christian Bale, well … he was Christian Bale, a shining star in a galaxy of shining stars.
Yet I find it increasingly difficult to like cop movies. In them, I see art imitating life, which is never a good thing when art looks as hideous as what I see in cop films.
Perhaps I’m wrong to pick on “Shaft” films alone. I could point to TV series like “Blue Bloods,” “Hill Street Blues” or “Law & Order” and to movies like “Dirty Harry,” “Colors” or “Training Days,” and find reasons to loathe what I see in each of them. Cops in these series and in movies trample the rights of “perps” as easily as a chain-smoker discards a cigarette butt.
Far too often, the perps are Black.
In the wake of George Floyd’s public murder, I have recalibrated my thinking in a sense. I don’t need folks to tell me movies aren’t necessarily a mirror on life, for I understand that as well as most people. I can’t, however, shake from my mind those images – and I have seen thousands of them – that have shown “courageous” cops playing the role of the renegade.
Cops are paid to keep the peace, which is difficult to do in a democracy when peace is a more fragile objective than they make it out to be. They exact justice at the meaty part of their nightstick, and they browbeat men without means into confessing to crimes that they couldn’t possibly have committed.
Wrongful convictions are a matter for another time. Here, I’m just assessing what I used to see as a delightful way of wasting time. In cop shows and cop movies, the cops win, which guarantees a satisfying ending.
I would be lying like Donald Trump if I said I didn’t often cheer for the perp to get away or beat the justice system. I do applaud the heroism of the men and women who risk their lives to catch one.
On the darker end of justice, cops earn my disgust when I watch them bend the law for the sake of capturing a perp. I’m glad, I suppose, they caught the man, but I hate how they did it. For he has rights, too.
I think cops have lost sight of those rights. So have filmmakers in their glorification of cop misconduct, though it can make for riveting theater. Image is everything, as tennis legend Adrian Agassi once said in a Canon commercial.
The image I see these days doesn’t flatter cops. I expect more from them than I see in movies.
I can’t ignore those images, not after Floyd’s death, the consequence of when we let enjoyment of film fiction creep into our nonfiction narratives. I won’t enjoy those films anymore.