In its third season, ABC’s police drama, Rookie Blue, raised the stakes through a compelling narrative that mirrors recent racial tension in America. In “A Good Shoot,” (Season 3, Episode 3) one of the show’s most lighthearted characters, Dov Epstein, shoots and kills a Black teenage boy who may or may not have been armed, prompting the community to question whether the shooting was racially motivated. Airing in June of 2012, this episode came at a time when most Americans were still mourning the loss of Trayvon Martin, an innocent teen who was murdered at the hands of an appointed community watch guard. Rookie Blue, in confronting the complex presence of law enforcement in urban neighborhoods, successfully deconstructed this pressing issue by forcing viewers to consider what they would have done in the same situation.
Dov Epstein may be the most likable cop on television. He always enters the police station wearing a smile and his cherished form-fitting uniform. When he and his partner, Chris, stopped at a corner store for a pack of licorice, no one was prepared for what was to come. Dov walked in to find a teenage Black male in a hoodie creeping up from behind the counter. After Dov asked if he worked there, the teen unconvincingly answered, “yeah” and continued to look around the store, paranoid. When Dov asked to see his hands and for him to step in front of the counter, the boy quickly dipped down below the counter. Dov frantically withdrew his gun and called for backup while he waited for the teen to reappear. However, when he finally arose, he was accompanied with a gunshot and what seemed to be a gun in his hand. Dov immediately returned fire, sending the teen to the ground on the other side of the counter.
After the detectives could not find the alleged shooter’s gun, doubts were raised regarding the nature of the shooting. Did the teen really have a gun? Did Dov shoot in defense or strictly to kill? Did Dov assume that the teen was armed because he was Black? These questions consumed the minds of the investigators, community, viewers, and Dov himself throughout the episode.
Before the facts were finally revealed near the end, Rookie Blue tackled the roots of police distrust and subconscious discrimination head-on for an unforgettable episode. As Dov went through intense interrogations, it was clear that his character was under attack. As with any seemingly unjustified murder involving a white cop and unarmed minority, racism was immediately cited. For returning viewers, however, the investigation would not prove whether or not Dov was racist.
“A Good Shoot” successfully did what most mainstream news outlets fail to do when covering similar cases. Instead of classifying the incident as an act of racism, Rookie Blue forced viewers to form their own opinions before exposing the truth, causing them to evaluate their own prejudices and assumptions. For example, most viewers, like Dov, probably assumed that the teen behind the counter was holding a gun when he jumped up. When a gun wasn’t found at the crime scene, however, everyone had to retrace their figurative steps and consider why they had come to the same conclusion as Dov.
Most importantly, this episode of Rookie Blue highlighted why viewers should be hesitant to develop personal ideologies through televised drama. For the majority of the episode, viewers were led to believe that Dov had prematurely shot an unarmed Black teen. After it was revealed that there was an accomplice who had shot at Dov from a different location in the store, a piece of that innocence was inevitably lost. For a viewer basing their perceptions of Black men on Rookie Blue, this proved to be problematic. While the first Black teen did not have a gun, his friend did. The fact that both had been in the process of robbing a corner store became irrelevant in considering that a life had been lost. Dov mourned over the killing and had an extremely difficult time overcoming his own sense of guilt, both before and after he found out that someone had indeed fired at him first.
This consciousness and remorse is what brought the episode to life. Too often when these incidents actually happen, are citizens bombarded with evidence and police reports rather than stories. Rookie Blue strategically crafted a narrative that finally humanized both the victim and the shooter in question.