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Police Interactions in "The Night Of" Episode 1

HBO’s The Night Of is a crime drama starring Riz Ahmed as Nasir “Naz” Khan, a Pakistani-American college student accused of murdering a white 20-something woman named Andrea Cornish who he met in a series of unusual events. The television series is critically acclaimed (13 Emmy nominations and 5 wins) with special attention given to the ways the criminal legal processes are portrayed as Naz and his case make their way through the system.

In the first episode, Naz is introduced as a smart and awkward college student in Queens NY. He tutors members of the college basketball team, lives at home, and jumps at the chance to attend a party in downtown Manhattan. After his ride falls through, Naz takes his father’s yellow taxi cab and drives downtown hoping to make it to the Manhattan party. While he’s stopped looking for directions, a young woman enters the cab thinking the taxi is taking passengers. Allured by the woman’s eyes and her vague request to go to the beach, Naz ditches his original plans to attend the party and instead takes the woman to a river and lives in the exciting moment away from his structured life at home. The woman, without revealing her name, offers Naz drugs which he reluctantly accepts and is later invited to the woman’s house in the Upper Westside. After taking more drugs and consuming alcohol, Naz and the woman have a sexual encounter. Naz wakes up on the first floor of the residence coming off of his high and goes upstairs to say goodbye to the woman. There he finds the woman bloody and seemingly dead. Naz is scared and runs out the door alerting neighbors when he breaks glass and drives away in his dad’s taxi.

In one of the first encounters with the police, Naz makes an illegal left turn and is stopped by two police officers in uniform. The police, a Black woman and a white man, disorient and question Naz, who’s already nervous from running away from the dead woman. After running his ID through the police system and not receiving any priors, the white police officer suggests they cut Naz loose since the officers are already working overtime and it’d be less paperwork to just give a warning. At this moment, the police officers answer a dispatch call about the brownstone that the dead woman lived in and that Naz fled from. The officers decide rather than cut Naz loose for a minor traffic infraction, to bring him uncuffed into their car and take him to the crime scene.

This scene highlights the ways police discretion is available to law enforcement officers in the community and how certain interactions with the public may or may not always lead to an arrest or entrance into the criminal legal system. The FBI publishes national-level data on the contacts between the police and the public. These interactions may also be violent with Blacks and Hispanics reporting higher likelihoods of threat of force, handcuffing, pushing/grabbing/hitting, spraying/shocking, and pointing/shooting a gun by police than whites or others. In the episode, Naz was not physically forced or threatened to accompany the police officers, but he was verbally harassed and intimidated.

From Harnell and Davis (2018) - Contacts Between Police and the Public, 2018 - Statistical Tables

Police discretion is one theme that plays a larger part into the mystery of the show: What if the police decided to cut Naz loose? What if Naz did not take his dad’s taxi? What if Naz did not pick up Andrea? Other themes include the bureaucracy of the police as evidenced by the specialized units who don’t interact well with one another and heed to the authority of senior members without challenging their directions. The scenes of Naz’s interrogation and the evidence collection highlights the dehumanizing aspects of entering the criminal-legal system. While I’ve only viewed the first episode of The Night Of I look forward to seeing how the other aspects of the criminal legal system are portrayed and how the mystery plays out.

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