« Former AG (and now Senate candidate) Jeff Sessions laments some of the sentence reductions in the FIRST STEP Act | Main | US Sentencing Commission releases new report on "Inter-District Differences in Federal Sentencing Practices" »

January 21, 2020

"Normalizing Injustice: The Dangerous Misrepresentations that Define Television’s Scripted Crime Genre"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new Color of Change report. Here is an excerpt from the report's introduction:

Police procedurals and legal dramas are the bread and butter of primetime lineups, drawing the largest audiences in the U.S., in addition to hundreds of millions of viewers annually around the world.  These series communicate about the criminal justice system as much as any other popular medium, if not more.  Thus, they likely play some role in shaping viewers’ fundamental understanding of right and wrong, the role of race and gender in society, how the justice system works and what we should and shouldn't expect from both the system and the people in it.

There are many possible consequences of inaccurate and distorted portrayals. For instance, when these series neglect to depict or acknowledge unjust racial disparities in the criminal justice system — as this report demonstrates most of them do — viewers may be more likely to believe that these problems no longer plague the system (or perhaps never have) in real life.

When they depict police, prosecutors, judges and other players in the system as justified and correct in their intentions and actions, and depict the reality of the system as fair and effective, viewers may be more likely to believe the system is working effectively in real life; moreover, they may become skeptical of those who question its fairness.  If series portray white people as victims of crime more often than others, they may affect the level of empathy that viewers feel for the lives of one group of people relative to another.  Such portrayals can influence whom we think of as the face of crime victims, and even what justice for crime victims should look like.

When the beloved police, prosecutors and other criminal justice professional characters on these series break the rules or violate someone’s rights, viewers may see their actions as normal and rightful if there is no depiction of the many harms their rulebreaking behavior causes: short-term and long-term physical harms, financial harms, life trajectory harms, psychological harms, the many different harms of being denied freedom in numerous forms....

The cumulative effects of these and other inaccurate portrayals — whether related to women, people of color or crime and criminal procedure itself — may build an unfounded public faith in the status quo, and even turn the viewing public against urgently needed reforms that criminal justice experts have recommended as necessary, just and effective.

January 21, 2020 at 05:45 PM | Permalink


These shows may also fail to mention that
90% of legally purchased firearms are never used in any sort of crime and 99% are never used in a homicide,
99% of homicides aren't from mass shootings,
98% of firearm-owners never commit homicide,
self-defense uses far outnumber homicides in any given year

Posted by: Self Deefence | Jan 22, 2020 12:21:34 AM

This article is spot-on and is a major reason why I quit watching these shows with their lies. One major beef I have against these shows is that they make it look like only bad people receive the third-degree and that the third-degree is the only way to get evidence against the guilty that will convince a judge and jury to convict. I am also fed up with the misandrist (anti-male), anti-black, and anti-poor stereotypes that these shows promote. I remember several years ago when I used to be dumb enough to watch these shows to have seen the first NBC episode from a program: FIRST RESPONDERS, in which a rookie police woman who is training a male recruit has him cover up for her when she decides to take the law into her own hands. He obeys her and the show makes this look right. The show also made it looked like that the person the woman killed was a common criminal who "deserved" it. What type of message does a show like this send to us? That is okay to violate the Constitution; that it is okay to murder people whom we SUSPECT are criminals; that it is okay to target poor people, especially if their gender is male and their skin color is non-white? It's high time that progressive groups target these so-called "law 'n' order" and so-called "victims' rights" shows for the right-wing bigoted propaganda that they really are! Why is everybody so silent about these abominable shows?

Posted by: William R. Delzell | Jan 22, 2020 9:50:36 AM

Warrants and other civil rights are really not even an afterthought on most of these shows. This show has failed to show many facts.

Posted by: Gurbir | Jan 29, 2020 6:14:39 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB