Change is often born from chain reactions. In last week’s episode, the police brutality faced by Jake in the season premiere caused Black Chicago Mayor Douda (Curtis Cook) to defund the police. In response to the defunding, the Chicago Police Department chief effectively allowed police officers to stop doing their job to give the community a look at what life would be like without policing. In response to being abandoned by the police, the Jake’s brother Reg Taylor (Barton Fitzpatrick), Tracy Roxboro (Tai Davis), and a group of volunteers part of community protection program R.O.C.K. (Remembering Our Chicago Kids) to answer the calls of the community and help solve issues police normally would. For most of the hour-episode, The Chi gives viewers a glimpse into what a major U.S. city would look like if a Black mayor empowered Black citizens to police Black neighborhoods without the cops.
While an entire walkout by police officers has yet to happen, The Chi paints a realistic picture of a possible future in America. Ashville, North Carolina’s police department reportedly has had 40% of their police officers after the Asheville City Council voted to reduce the police budget by 3%. The number of sworn-in Los Angeles Police Department officers has dropped 4% in the last year, a time when the LAPD’s operating budget decreased to $1.71 billion last summer amid protests to defund the police but was later increased to $1.76 billion. In both cities, officers were making fewer arrests and not responding to non-emergency crimes.
We don’t see a crime wave in this episode of The Chi. Still, Lena Waithe’s popular drama doesn’t romanticize the complexity of replacing police officers bound by law with citizens united by empathy. For example, when Reg and Tracy rush to an apartment building after receiving a distress call, they are met with a couple in the middle of a domestic dispute. When Tracy tries to reason with the young woman, she retorts that she doesn’t know her while the boyfriend Jamal, played by Vic Mensa, punches Reg when he tries to help. That’s when The Chi shows the advantage the people have over the police to police their community.
Instead of Tracy asking the woman if she wants to press charges, she sits her down in her own apartment, asks her about seeking couples therapy, and never raises her voice above an impassioned whisper. On the other side of the building, Reg decides to relate to Jamal’s manhood rather than brutalize him for assaulting him. He lowers Jamal’s guard by explaining how he’s just like him with girlfriend issues he’s not facing in order to make sure Jamal is ok.
When Jamal asks who Reg is, the question he’s really asking is, “Who are you that you can tell me how to live my life?” A cop wouldn’t need to utter a word for him to know the answer; the uniform, badge, and decades of American tradition would speak volumes. Dressed in similar street clothes as Jamal, Reg simply responds that he’s “a man” before saying it’s “his job as a man” to look out for his fellow Black man.
The scene alone demonstrated how police handle people by appealing to an emotionless complex system of laws most people didn’t vote to have govern their lives and are unaware of them. The community protection program appealed to the collective experience all Black people deal with every day. Instead of a domestic dispute that involved an assault on one of the people trying to help, resulting in arrests, bodily harm, or murder at the hands of police, it ended with de-escalation tactics predicated on empathy more than legality.
According to a Chicago Sun-Times report, the Chicago Police department recently demonstrated the importance of involving the community in policing efforts by introducing “liaison officers” who possess “the academic background or life experience allowing them to better connect with minority and LGBTQ residents.” While that isn’t the same as The Chi characters banding together to replace the police, it does show that the Showtime drama might be prophesizing a future that needs to come.
Relive the episode through the gallery below: