When I was a kid, a lot of my favorite mystery procedurals featured privite detectives–Magnum, Simon & Simon, Jessica Fletcher, Jim Rockford. There were some good police cops/investigators on TV who worked within the system like Kojak, Columbo, Starsky & Hutch, and Quincy M.D., but for the most part, it was outsiders who solved crimes and made things safe.
At a certain point in pop culture, that started to shift, and with shows like Hill Street Blues, Law & Order, and CSI: Random Ass Cities, the police started to take the spotlight. The cops became the focus. The good guys. And by golly, those shows are everywhere now. I swear half of the CBS primetime lineup is cop shows.
And that’s a problem.
Because there are structural problems with how law enforcement is handled in this country. White supremacy lies at the core of our legal system, informing who is targeted, who is let off with a warning, how bail and sentencing is set, and ultimately who “gets policed.” I’m not going to do your homework for you, but if you’ve been paying any attention to the news this few months alone (let alone for years), you’ve seen it in action. As wiser people than me have pointed out, it’s not that this violence is new–the technology to record, share, and bear witness to it is what’s new.
But this post isn’t about police brutality.
It’s about how media and pop culture is responsible for coloring our perception of law enforcement. How it glamorizes cops who “bend the rules” to close cases. How the cops are, almost without exception, in the right. While you get the occasional “bad cop,” it’s always presented as an exception to the rule where there are clear consequences for stepping out of bounds. It’s about how we’ve been sold a narrative that the police are here to protect you and if they rough someone up in an interrogation or stalk a suspect they might be a rebel, but it’s all in the service of the greater good because the cops only target criminals, right?
And that’s all a lie.
FBI investigations have accumulated hard data on the number of white supremacists in law enforcement. While some put on the uniform to serve and protect, it seems far too many of them use the badge to shield them from their own violent natures.
There are no good cops. Law enforcement doesn’t know what to do with them.
In a system that sheilds the worst offenders and drives out the ones who try to correct injustices, it’s impossible for there to be good cops. Because a “good” cop is grit in the gears of how they operate.
For too many people, their experience with police is a passive one–seeing them portrayed as heroes in TV and movies. It doesn’t reflect the lived experience of neighborhoods and communities that are brutally over-policed.
Here’s where it gets personal, and why the Cobalt City logo is up top of this post.
The very first character I ever wrote for Cobalt City was police detective Manuel de la Vega, aka Gato Loco. He’d fled a corrupt police department in Mexico City after helping the state police build a case against his fellow officers. He was the quintisential “good cop.” And even though I had him leave the department in Greetings from Buena Rosa, he was held up as one of the best detectives in the city.
Then several years ago I introduced another “good cop” into the mix, Roberta “Robbie” Pak who doubled as the costumed vigilante Bantam. Appearing in Ties that Bind, there was a level of corruption in her backstory, as she had been turned by Xia Lo of the city’s big organized crime family. She was still endeavoring to do good, but was stuck in this complicated enviornment.
Robbie showed up again in Cobalt City: RESISTANCE to provide a window into the militarization of the police to confront protests. And afterwards, as I started writing original short fiction for Patreon, I started an ongoing arc of Bantam stories I was internally calling “Fables of the Deconstruction.”
All this time, Robbie was still a cop. A good cop. A cop who tried to do the right thing. But still a cop. The partner she’d been saddled with, Detective Benjamin Grant, had brought a police brutality accusation against a fellow detective two years previous and now no one wanted to work with him. They were two outsiders, out to make a difference.
And while I touched on problem cops, I was just wallpapering over a wall that was rotted through. For the most part, good cops don’t make a difference. They get fired. They get driven out. Or, like NY cop Adrian Schoolcraft, who recorded fellow officers in 2008-2009 to try and build a case against their abuses, committed to a psychiatric facility.
Like many of you, I’ve watched in real time as people from all over the world gathered in the millions to rally and march for meaningful police reform only to be given, at best, platitutes and meaningless gestures or, at worst, brutal crowd supression, mass arrests, and crowd control methods banned by the Geneva Convention. Despite the brutality, people continue to march, continue to protest. And in reaction, the police continue to brutalize them–over six hundred separate incidents since George Floyd was killed alone, including deliberately targeting members of the press. (Last year, police killed 1,100 people and in 99% of cases the officers were not charged with the deaths.)
So with that in mind, I made the decision that I can no longer take any part in propping up the narrative. There was no way that Detective Roberta Pak could remain on the fictional police force in a fictional city and still call herself a hero.
Today I released a new Bantam story to my Patreon supporters.
It will be her last story as a member of the CCPD.
I write superhero stories. I believe in heroes and doing the right thing in difficult circumstances. And I belive the artist’s role in revealing uncomfortable truths is just as important as letting people dream about something better. Selling the idea of good cops and the dream of a police force that doesn’t reflect the reality of our world–it feels irresponsible. And I can’t in good conscience be a part of it.
Maybe it’s not much. Time will tell. But it’s something. I just can’t let myself be part of the copaganda anymore.