Abolition for the People

Pop Culture Helped Turn Police Officers Into Rock Stars — And Black Folks Into Criminals

Exploring how copaganda empowers law enforcement to terrorize with impunity

From left — ‘S.W.A.T.’’s Dominic Luca (Mark Shera) second from left, 1975. Photo: Walt Disney Television/Getty Images; ‘Adam-12’’s Jim Reed (Kent McCord) on left, circa 1972. Photo: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

As a whole, these characters are complements to the purposes of copaganda, serving as examples of Black exceptionalism on the one hand while suggesting that policing is race-neutral but criminality is not.

Godfrey Cambridge and Raymond St. Jacques in ‘Come Back, Charleston Blue’, 1972. Photo: FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images
From left — Danny Glover and Mel Gibson in ‘Lethal Weapon’. Photo: Aaron Rapoport/Corbis via Getty Images; Law & Order’s Detective Ed Green (Jesse L. Martin), right, 2000. Photo: Jessica Burstein/NBCUniversal via Getty Images
Martin Lawrence and Will Smith in ‘Bad Boys’, 1995. Photo: Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Mark Anthony Neal is James B. Duke Professor at Duke University. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, NPR, The Root, The Undefeated & other outlets.