Sometimes television crime dramas get the law right. Sometimes they get it wrong. Sometimes they promote a vision of policing that isn’t law and order — it’s order, straight up, and screw the law. I’m talking about American dramas here. That scene goes something like this, and it really, really ticks me off:
Law enforcement officers arrest a suspect. They demand he confess. The suspect says, “Don’t you have to read me my rights?”
And the cop stands tall and declares: “You’re under arrest for murder. You get nothing.” (Pause for audience at home to punch the air and shout, “Yeah!”) Or the cop says: “You’ve been arrested for terrorism. I am invoking the Patriot Act. You have no rights.” (Yes, still. Today. On a first-run prime time crime drama. Pause again so audience can whoop and chant, “USA! USA!”)
1. Bonus ticks-me-off points if the cop adds: “You don’t get a lawyer. You don’t get medical treatment. You get a one-way ticket to a seaside paradise called Gitmo. Too bad your family will never know where you’ve gone.” (Yee-haw.)
2. Extra bonus points if the cop promises that the suspect will rot in a cell too small to turn around in, with no daylight, and — unless he confesses this second — endless years of prison rape. (Snirk snirk hahahaha — it’s awesome because rape is funny and well deserved.)
More ways to get me snarling at the screen:
3. When interrogating the suspect, speak softly and carry a hammer and a scalpel and a selection of dental implements. Fondle them while saying, “Why’d you do it?”
4. When the suspect shudders uncontrollably and says, “Torture’s illegal — you can’t!” the cop should smile and say, “Oh, I won’t. But meet my little friend from Mossad.”
5. Really run up the score: make sure that the suspect is battered and bleeding heavily because the heroes have punched, kicked, or repeatedly slammed his head against a table. Super extra bonus points if this beating — excuse me, this righteous ass-kicking — takes place while the suspect is handcuffed and shackled to a bolt in the floor.
6. If a cop feels remorse for beating a suspect to within an inch of his life, make sure his colleagues comfort him and let him know it’s okay, because “emotions are running high.” Make sure his boss claps him on the shoulder and tells him to take a night off and hit the local bar to unwind.
7. If the scene takes place in an emergency room, then for extra hilarity — and that delicious catharsis that only revenge can provide — have the hero cops shove the doctor aside so they can stick a thumb or a ballpoint pen deep into the suspect’s wounds. The suspect will immediately confess, as he damn well should.
8. Reinforce the underlying idea that it’s both justified and necessary for the cops (or the feds or the MPs or the CIA) to threaten and torture suspects in custody, because the authorities are at an endless disadvantage against criminals. Remind viewers that authority is largely helpless and must use these methods until we all wake up and give them the true power they need.
9. Present these scenes as emblems of patriotism and common sense, not propaganda. Constantly send the message that these scenes depict righteousness — that good guys are vicious and we should love them for it. Never, ever whisper the words police state. Because, if you do it often enough, with enough flair and drama, you won’t have to.