Feb 28, 2013 - Issue 506

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The Crime Scene Investigator (CSI) television series is one of the most popular series on television today. CSI New York with the President’s college buddy, Hill Harper, playing one of the characters is one of the spinoffs that have helped greatly to garner this popularity. Audiences’ sense of justice achieved in the criminal justice world is greatly stroked by the plots which use heavy doses of scientific laboratory work to identify the perpetrators of crimes. There are absolutely NO police departments in the nation that have the depth of lab resources that are evident in these shows so they are definitely just fiction. They are science fiction! The science is real but the criminal justice communities’ real investment in it is fictitious.

Too many white people and others who are ignorant of the lives of poor people who are touched by the real criminal justice system come away from these shows believing that these are reasonable facsimiles of how the criminal justice system works in their own communities. I, and others dedicated to the abolition of our current criminal justice industrial complex, frequently must confront this illusion in the minds of too many television watchers. The last episode of this season’s CSI New York series, which aired on Friday February 22, does huge damage to our efforts. Hill Harper should be ashamed!

This ninth season episode (17th) was titled, “Today is Life.” Amazon summarizes the plot as follows: “Community unrest over the police shooting of an unarmed man forces Mac and the team to move quickly to solve the case.” The plot entailed a jewelry store robbery where the perpetrators escaped on foot running through a maze of alleys. Hot in pursuit, a New York police officer stops to peer around a corner and is shot at. He pulls back, looks again, and sees a similarly dressed young man who raises his arm. The officer shoots the young man dead but they do not find a gun on him or near him. The black community surrounds the police station demanding prosecution of the officer. Those who know and love the deceased young man are absolutely sure that he did not rob any store. But he has jewelry falling out of his pocket. The officer who took the shot is barricaded by a surrounding crowd in the police station with the head of the crime lab, Mac Taylor, played by Gary Sinise.

Mac Taylor, Sinese’s character, is portrayed as an “American” hero. His character is supposed to make us like all cops. “He got his police job as the result of his bravery under fire as a U.S. Marine; and like most of major CSI characters, he harbored quite a few personal demons, most of them stemming from the death of his wife in the Twin Towers on 9/11.” Hill Harper plays “the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Sheldon Hawkes, a Harlem native who’d graduated from college at 18 and became a licensed surgeon at 24, but who felt out of place in the rarefied world of commercial medicine and opted for police work instead.”

A cop shooting the wrong person while in hot pursuit is more than believable because it happens too frequently in real life. Some departments have wised up enough that they prohibit officers from shooting fleeing felons except when those felons obviously intend to harm others. Some departments enforce those regulations. “Capital punishment” for robbery makes no sense anywhere, neither in the courts nor on the streets. Helicopters were sold to cities as a means to eliminate these dangerous chases. 

Half way through the episode, an utterly unbelievable scene is shown. This scene entails an attempt to move the police shooter from the surrounded station to a “safer” locale while the investigation is going on. This officer is pulled out of an ambulance escape-vehicle by the crowd and is dragged a short distance before a phalanx of shield carrying cops is able to reach him and rescue him. Wow! What balderdash! We know that nowhere in the U.S. would a crowd be allowed to barricade all entrances and exits to a police station without drastic action being taken. In real life, no matter how much sympathy those in authority might have to a loud crowd calling for justice, this would not be allowed without folks in the crowd getting hurt or dying. This totally unbelievable dramatic element was dropped in to assuage the real anger that many of us feel about cops killing innocent young men. But it leaves the taste in the mouths of the general public that angry black crowds calling for justice are out of control vigilantes. That is racist projection of the worse kind; historically it is whites that are more prone to be vigilantes.

Eventually in this CSI New York episode, the lab science comes to the conclusion that the young black man was not one of the jewelry store robbers. The jewelry in his pocket was costume jewelry that he was hocking to buy a ring for his girlfriend and there was no gunshot residue found on his corpse’s hand or on his clothing. But the officer had been shot at because Dr. Hawkes (Hill Harper) found a mark of the bullet on a pipe nearby the corner the officer peered around. When the young black man’s girlfriend is told that he is the innocent person she thought he was, an even more unbelievable scene results. First, she refuses the ring he got her because she “wants to move forward rather than hold on to the past.” Then she goes out into the crowd and asks them not to condemn the murdering officer “because he was doing his job.” She blames the death of her boy friend on the robbers that were running away. Holy Mother of God! How much is a young black man’s life worth if it can be dismissed so easily! The episode ends with Mac Taylor down on his knees asking a new character to be his new wife.

The moral logic exhibited in this drama is beyond unacceptable; it is obscene. The devil made me do it. Taking any life, regardless of innocence, ought to prompt bone and soul deep considerations of how this can be prevented and avoided in the future. Hill Harper ought to be ashamed at allowing his talents to be used in a drama that so lightly values the life of a young black man! Hill Harper, whose real name is Frank Harper, tries in real life to be a mentor for young black men. He wrote the book Letters to a Young Brother: Manifest Your Destiny. He was a member of Boston’s Black Folks Theater Company. He is smart having graduated magnum cum laude from Brown University, cum laude from Harvard Law School where he was a friend of President Obama and with a Masters of Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Harper knows better.

This level of callousness was jarring to me. We do have better alternatives to catching law breakers than playing-out “the shoot out at the OK Corral” on our streets. The human carnage that we wade through in urban communities has got to stop. That will require fundamental change on the part of all of us and a total revolution in our criminal justice system so that there really is some justice to be found there and some equitable valuing of all human life. Please, please, please do not be lulled to sleep or let others be lulled to sleep by these obscene “morality plays” that so popularly justify the present day injustice.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Wilson Riles, is a former Oakland, CA City Council Member. Click here to contact Mr. Riles.