‘Scandal’ Tackled Police Brutality In a Powerful Way

I tend to watch Scandal, not on Thursdays, but on Friday evenings after I return from work. It’s a nice virtual getaway, after a long, taxing week. However, after seeing tweet after tweet about last week’s episode, I knew I had to watch first thing Friday morning. Thursday night’s episode of Scandal titled simply, “The Lawn Chair,” delved into the current American political climate of police brutality in a masterful way.

The show starts with Olivia arriving at the scene of a dead Brandon Parker, lying face down in the middle of a Washington D.C. street, minutes away from The White House. Pope has been called in by the police to help diffuse the situation, after Clarence, the dead boy’s father, holds court over his son’s body with a shotgun. Not allowing anyone to come near it, local residents begin to rally around the scene in support of Clarence. For many of us, watching this episode of Scandal play out on our screens was all too familiar. Every year in America it’s a new dead black young boy, man, and even woman who is the victim of state sanctioned violence. You see like Mike Brown, Brandon was shot by a police officer. Like Mike Brown, the fictional Brandon Parker was said to have physically provoked his shooting death.


However, unlike Mike Brown, Brandon Parker does actually receive justice at the end. The lies his killer has told are quickly dismantled by the help of Olivia and her gladiators. The stuff of movies right? We’ll get into that later. It does not take long for the audience to see that this situation is going to be a conflict for Olivia. She is after all a fixer in a mostly white, male world. She is an anomaly, on television and in life. A black women who yields so much political and social power. She is able to get herself out of intensely difficult situations and has the president on speed dial for back up. But how do you fix a situation such as this?

A murder of a child by a police officer whose duty it is to protect the neighborhood in which he patrols. Issues of class, privilege, and blackness were brought up quite early in the episode. I knew Shonda was playing zero games when a local community activist uttered to Olivia, “Your black card is not getting validated today.” Jesus Christ of Nazareth. This is the joy of having a black creator of a show, without whom those type of nuances would be lost. Those internal racial conversations that we as black folk have, that white folks are not privy to. I doubt a non-black writer would have been able to write an episode such as this solitarily.

It was not lost on me either that the police officer who killed Brandon in last week’s episode, looks eerily similar to that of Darren Wilson. Shonda knew what she was doing, and I applaud her for taking such a risk with the direction of her show. I for one, believe art is supposed to be a reflector of the state of the world. Not all the time. However, when you have such distrust and fear of the police in a certain segment of the American population it is worth addressing on primetime television. Hopefully, this will be a benchmark for more shows to face these issues head on.

Honestly, I did not know how this was going to play out for Liv. Were they going to have her straddle the fence and be on the side of diplomacy over all else? Or were they going to have her take Clarence’s side? I was presently surprised when Olivia joined the protestors and began chanting with them. Throughout the episode it became clear to her that justice does not look the same for everyone who resides in this nation and that sentiment was echoed repeatedly in the episode. I can’t help but wonder how Harrison would have fit into this episode, had his character still been alive.

I think the highlight of the episode for me was the monologue given by the murderous cop that indicted himself and the black community as well. Although, I give no credence to the view that black families don’t teach their children respect. We know historically and culturally that people of African descent are overwhelmingly open, friendly, hospitable people. I did, however, agree with the cop’s sentiments about black on black crime. There is a lot of it in the inner city, and I can’t say with a hundred percent certainty that the black community gives it the attention that it deserves. That is me being painfully honest. I think it is brilliant that Shonda chose to include that argument in the show.

It would be remiss of me not to discuss the neatly packaged ending of this episode of Scandal. Justice does prevail after all, and Clarence even gets to meet the President. The critiques on Twitter were bountiful, and I understand them. Even though what happened on the show doesn’t mirror the actualities of the injustice of police brutality, I turned off my television feeling hopeful. After all, it had been a long week, and it’s nice to stay hopeful in the midst of a nightmare.


Ashley Akunna is the host and creator of The Grapevine, a talk show that focuses on the voice of millenials. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @thegrapevinetv

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