What one of TV’s longest-running reality shows says about race and our relationship with the police.
This story was published in partnership with The Marshall Project.
Morgan Langley leans toward a large computer screen. He isn’t sure if the video clip is still there, posted to a random YouTube channel named after a ’90s punk-ska act, but after a few moments, he finds it. Out of a black screen flashes a white Ford Mustang with blacked-out windows and chrome rims. Langley, who is an executive producer of one of America’s longest-running reality shows, “Cops,” narrates. “This kid here is actually selling a thousand pills of ecstasy to an undercover cop,” he says excitedly.
On the screen, a skinny white kid with a straight-brim baseball cap and a collection of painful-looking face piercings has plunked down on the Mustang’s passenger seat. Next to him is a woman whose blurred face is framed by sandy blonde hair. They briefly discuss logistics, and a second guy with dark skin and wrap-around sunglasses hops in. He asks if she has the cash; she asks if he has the goods. He asks if she’s a cop; she laughs.
“Okay, we’re just gonna do it like this,” he says, grabbing a pistol from his waistband. “Just give me your money.” Seconds later, officers in green tactical gear swarm the car, and he’s nose-down on the pavement, handcuffed and delivering a tear-streaked explanation: “Sir, they gave me a gun and told me they were gonna kill me.”Continue reading “How ‘Cops’ Became the Most Polarizing Reality TV Show in America”