I promise, I’m not going to devote whole posts to every one of the nearly thirty ethics-focused TV shows starting new seasons this month. “Blue Bloods,” however, as the longest running such show and a drama whose very premise is an ethics problem (we call Tom Selleck’s baby “The Conflict of Interest Family” around the ProEthics office)–and it is a multiple winner of the Ethics Alarms Award for best ethics TV series— has earned a post of its own.
Last night was the premiere of “Blue Bloods,” and to its credit, the show that celebrates our men and women in blue did not duck the issue of police shootings and the national controversy over law enforcement. The episode, titled “The Greater Good,” had NYC Police Chief Frank Reagan’s oldest son, hot-headed police detective Danny (played by Donnie Wahlberg) facing a grand jury because he had shot and killed an unarmed man. Meanwhile, the wife of a fallen officer and Frank Reagan colleague and friend urged Selleck’s character to find a way to flunk her son out of the police academy, because she didn’t want her boy to end up hated and dead, like his father.
Unfortunately, the show’s writers managed to avoid all of the real issues involved in police shootings that have people getting hurt and killed in the Charlotte riots, pro football players grandstanding, and the races parting like the Red Sea as Barack Obama stands looking on, apparently content.
Danny, you see, shot an unarmed suspect who…
…an admitted serial killer
…tortured his female victims, over 20 of them
…had kidnapped Danny’s college-student niece and announced that he would kill her
…was goading the detective into firing as part of his vendetta against him
…had his hands behind his back intentionally behaving as if he had a weapon, grinning all the while like the eeevil homicidal maniac he was
…refused to drop the imaginary weapon when ordered to do so, and
…suddenly whipped his hands out from behind his back, prompting Danny to fire.
This is called “loading the dice.” Good cop series hero shoots mad-dog killer who wants him to shoot: even “Dirty Harry” didn’t have the plot rigged that shamelessly. It would have been much more helpful (and dramatically interesting) if the story was something like the third and mostly ignored officer-involved shooting this month, the death of Tyre King, a 13-year-old African American boy who apparently drew a toy gun out of his waistband when stopped by police.
Police in Columbus, Ohio, were investigating how a 13-year-old boy wanted for questioning Wednesday night in an armed robbery ended up fatally shot by an officer.
The child — later identified by Columbus police as Tyre King — had “pulled a gun from his waistband” when officers attempted to take him and another male into custody, the Columbus Division of Police said in a statement. As the encounter unfolded, an officer shot King “multiple times.”
The weapon recovered from the scene was determined to be a BB gun with an attached laser sight, Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs said at a news conference Thursday morning. She showed a replica image of that BB gun.
“Our officers carry a gun that looks practically identical to this weapon,” said Jacobs, adding, “It turns out not to be a firearm, but as you can see, it looks like a firearm that can kill you.”
Police were first called to a report of a group of people — including one armed with a gun — demanding money at 7:42 p.m. ET.
“This man just had a gun on this white dude on the street!” a caller told a 911 dispatcher, according to audio released by police. The caller said the armed robber was a “black boy in a hoodie” and “the guys just took off running,” according to the audio.
A person on the call identified as the victim of the robbery said the alleged holdup was over $10. He said he was unhurt. He said the gun looked like a Ruger 1911-style handgun, according to the audio.
Officers arriving at the scene saw three people matching the suspects’ descriptions around a block away. However, when they attempted to speak with them, two of the males ran away, police said in a statement.
“Officers followed the males to the alley … and attempted to take them into custody when one suspect pulled a gun from his waistband,” police added. “One officer shot and struck the suspect multiple times.”
I’d like to see Danny and the Reagans deal with that one.
The second ethical dilemma presented in the episode was just plain badly conceived, and I’m surprised that Selleck or someone didn’t junk it before production. We had to watch the usually ethically and morally wise police commissioner wrestle with the supposedly difficult decision of whether to secretly and unjustly derail the career ambitions of a qualified aspiring police officer because the young man’s mother asked him to do it for a full hour, when the ethical course was obvious, should have been obvious to Frank based on his conduct and statements in the previous six seasons, and his former police chief father (played by Len Cariou, the original Sweeney Todd) gave him the right answer to this phony “dilemma” before the second commercial break. “It’s not your decision to make,” Pop said.
Frank finally did the right thing (and faced the wrath of the mother, played by Lori Laughlin of “Full House” infamy), but left ethically astute viewers wondering about his mental state. If that was a tough call for the Commish, it’s going to be a long season.
Blue Bloods usually deserves praise for raising the ethics issues it does. Even last night’s slanted exploration of police shootings is more coherent and productive than protesting the National Anthem at football games.
But talk about a low bar! That is a #22 rationalization: “It’s not the worst thing.” Police shootings and the race and law enforcement issues it raises are a crucial social, legal and ethical issue. If a TV show can’t do a better job of raising the issues than this, it probably shouldn’t raise them at all.