Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Crime shows are a great source of entertainment. Shows like Law and Order, Criminal Minds, Blue Bloods, Hawaii Five-O, NCIS and more, are popular for the characters they portray and their storylines of justice and law enforcement.

However, there are problems with the portrayal of guns and police shootings in these shows. While it is exhilarating to watch these actors in policemen roles running around, chasing suspects and shooting criminals down, it speaks to a problematic mentality of criminal portrayal both on and off-screen.

As viewers, we are supposed to root for the cops to catch a criminal, who they are 100% confident committed the crime they are accused of. This is all well and good and definitely makes for good television. But, when we see people on television that are portrayed as criminals, we may make the common mistake that people of a similar demographic in real-life could also be criminals.

Many of the criminals we see on television are black, latin-american or of another minority ethnic group. If the general public are constantly being told, whether consciously or unconsciously, that most criminals largely matches the specific criteria of being black, latin-american or minority ethnic, they will start to believe it and the bias will then seep into daily life. And, if they are seeing cops shoot at the same kind of people, who are supposedly criminals, on television, they may begin to think that the same thing is justified in real life. Because, after all, they are criminals right?

In recent years, police brutality has become a prominent issue. Wrongful shootings by police officers against primarily black people has been brought to light, particularly with the work of advocacy group Black Lives Matter. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Alton Sterling and Michael Brown were considered unjust in the court of public opinion as they were all unarmed and innocent when they were killed. The police officers involved were not convicted in the deaths as they were deemed to be justified shootings. There were people that thought the officers were in the wrong and that they shot the victims simply because they made the mistake of being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others thought that the officers were perfectly justified in defending themselves and that the police should always be trusted to act correctly.

Within Hawaii Five-O, lead character Steve McGarrett, played by Alex O’Loughlin, is often more than willing to raise his gun and shoot wildly. Furthermore, he will often brutally attack his suspects in order to gain vital information that will lead the team to solve the murder, find the terrorist or save the island they live on – sometimes all in one episode. In the show, these actions are explained away due to the team having a “carte-blanche” from the Governor of the state, and it is apparently all in the pursuit of justice – for the greater good, so-to-speak.

It is obvious here that the portrayal of police brutality and criminality both reflects and also informs real life. It is an endless cycle that we must break. Black men should not be persecuted simply for existing, not in popular media as a gimmick or a plot line and certainly not in reality. Life imitates art, right? But, it shouldn’t.

By Michele Theil

Michele Theil is a freelance journalist based in London, specialising in investigative journalism and pieces relating to the LGBT+ community, women, race and culture – and their intersections. She is a bisexual woman of colour, and passionate about social justice, diversity, inclusion, writing, reading and swimming. Read her other work at

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