Liberal Copaganda is still Copaganda: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Diversity, and Police Violence
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a lighthearted sitcom depicting a wacky police precinct in New York City. Unlike other
cop procedurals like Law & Order or NCIS, Brooklyn Nine-Nine mixes police business with comedy and stars prolific comedians like Andy Samberg, Terry Crews, and Chelsea Peretti.The show, lauded for its diverse cast and top-tier writing, has won Emmys, Golden Globe, a GLAAD Media Award, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition Impact Award. Brooklyn Nine-Nine appears to be the liberal compromise both sides of the policing debate have been looking for: a world where the police are multiracial, committed to justice, and are ultimately good despite their goofy flaws.
The veneer of progress obscures the truth behind Brooklyn Nine-Nine. It is still a piece of cop propaganda that normalizes police violence and misconduct by placing marginalized folks behind the badge. There is no better example of the truth hidden in plain sight than the season 1 episode “Tactical Village”.
Officer Charles Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) passes out save the date invitations for his wedding to almost everyone at the department. Officer Rosa Diaz (Stephanie Beatriz) learns that her own partner did not invite her to his wedding. Diaz is upset by the exclusion but refuses to let it show because of her hard and tough persona. Despite being a Latina, her aggressive nature is not stereotypical. We the audience understand that her actions are fueled by a sincere hurt. Towards the end of the episode the two share a vulnerable moment and acknowledge one another feelings. Boyle explains why he was initially apprehensive to invite her but the story concludes with him extending a heart-felt invitation.
The sweetness of the moment is ruined by the backdrop of tactical drills and military-grade weapons. Throughout the episode, the main cast has been preparing for a timed competition between precincts in a tactical village, an urban assault simulation created to improve individual and organizational effectiveness. The New York Police Department conducts similar training at the Urban Tactical Village in the Bronx. In the beginning of the episode, deadly weapons and military-like equipment are looked over with glee by characters like Diaz and Officer Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg), a white man.
Peralta and co. fantasize about “taking down perps” during the drill by shooting first and asking questions later. Samberg’s character even goes as far as telling a simulation actor labeled perp that he would “blow his brains out”. In the world of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the guilty are always easily defined yet almost never the police. The extrajudicial blood lust is justified as the “perps” are inherently criminal and thus deserving of violence. The episode makes no mention of the harm caused by the militarization of the police. The thirst for violence by the so-called progressive precinct, played for laughs by the writers, is never questioned.
Most disturbing is Diaz’s repeated use of police weapons to take her frustration out on Boyle throughout the episode. Notably, she hits him a P.U.W., a portable ultrasonic weapon also known as a long-range acoustic device (LRAD). LRADs produce a 30 degree cone of sound causing extreme disorientation, nausea, discomfort, and can even destroy a target’s eardrums. After another officer explains that the P.U.W. causes extreme pain, Diaz cranks the weapon up to high. Boyle, rolling on the ground in pain from the seemingly random attack, comically proclaims that he can “taste his thoughts”.
The short scene is played for comedic effect but does not lead the audience to think of why the police would have such a powerful weapon or what it is used for in real life. It conveniently makes no mention of its repeated and continuous use of LRADs against protestors. The NYPD themselves were sued for excessive force after using LRADs on Black Lives Matter protesters in 2014. One of the plaintiffs claimed that she can still feel the effects of the sonic attack five years later. The protesters received a $780,000 settlement from the City of New York when the suit was settled in 2021.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine excels at portraying complicated characters. Officer Diaz, a bisexual woman of color, is allowed to be both stoic and soft, She is not confined to racist or sexist tropes and instead embodies a character type often reserved for white men. However, while diverse representation matters, it does not excuse the sanitization of an increasingly militarized police force. Especially not a department as fraught as the NYPD.