For Baltimore officer, prime time treatment

TELEVISION REVIEW

October 29, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

A Baltimore police officer gets the star treatment tonight on CBS in a five-minute segment during the "reality" show, "Top Cops."

The series re-creates a July 1990 incident in which Officer Michael J. Johnson was shot in the leg while questioning a man suspected of possessing crack cocaine. The re-creation, which features actor Kevin Jubinville as Johnson, is dramatic. It shows the officer wrestling with the suspect after being shot, while a group of black residents gathers and angrily challenges the white officer's use of force.

But the restaged event also is rife with the problems that come when real-life crime and social issues are repackaged and sold ++ to advertisers and viewers as entertainment. Most problematic is a speech that the producers have Johnson make near the end of the segment.

"People in this neighborhood are more or less trapped by poverty," Johnson says. "It's hard for some of them to look at a white cop arresting a black suspect and not think there's racism involved. But there's not. It's just business . . ."

That's not entertainment. That's ideology.

I'm willing to accept the premise, with some qualifications, that anybody who takes a bullet while trying to rid Baltimore's streets of crime is a hero and deserves to be celebrated. Television is as good a place as any to do the celebrating.

But bravery doesn't make someone an expert on social issues. )) This is especially true of an issue as complicated as that of crime and race.

The speech should not be in the program. The issue deserves a more socially responsible forum than one controlled by entertainment producers, who slice and dice urban crime and police officers' risking their lives, then sell the product for advertising dollars.

'Top Cops'

When: 8 tonight

Where: WBAL (Channel 11).

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