Writing About Diverse Cops (Cops of Color,  LGBTQA+)

Noa asked:

Is writing about diverse cops propaganda?

Recently I keep seeing posts condemning people who write black and/or queer cops, because it makes the police seem more relatable/sympathetic to marginalized groups.So now I’m anxious about some of my characters.

Due to the nature of my story, I have a lot of cop characters, some of which are black or hispanic, some of which are queer, and some of which are both, with the most prominent one being a main character who is a black bisexual man.

I don’t live in the US and only have an outsider’s view on the issues and history regarding racially biased police brutality or attacks on minorities as a whole (not saying that it doesn’t happen where I’m from, it’s just different because of gun laws etc, and well, we didn’t have a Stonewall) and I’m doing my own research on these issues and trying to incorporate them in my story (which takes place in the US), but I don’t want to seem ignorant, or worse, like I support the police, even though I think some of my cop characters are genuinely good people.

The characters in question being PoC and/or queer is pretty important to me, but I’m wondering if I should change their race/orientation to avoid possible propaganda? If not, how can I successfully portray both factors coexisting?

I admit this question might be ignorant too but I grew up sheltered so I’d appreciate any help you can give me with this! Thank you very much!

On Non-American Police Forces

While people often focus on the racism of American police forces, the systemic racism of the justice system is visible globally. Canada has 40% of its prison population as Indigenous women, when we only make up 4% of the total Canadian population. Australia has similar numbers for its Aboriginal population. The UK incarcerates more brown and Black people than white people by a large margin.

To say that you are in a country without systemic racism in your justice department is to say you are ignorant of your own country’s justice system. Just because there are less deaths by police (because a lot of police in other countries don’t carry guns) does not mean the police are incarcerating people proportionally to the population.

Racism and colonialism is a global problem. Most police forces are relics of a colonial or imperialistic past. This means they’re echos of (often white, but not always, depending on the nationalism of the place in question) supremacy still resonating within the modern day. Xenophobia, colourism, and racism play a part in justice on a global scale. All of it needs to be examined, even if there aren’t police murders hitting the news on a weekly basis.

Media is Always Political

I don’t care what you’re writing, you’re writing something deeply influenced by politics.

  • Dystopia is rooted in police brutality and an authoritarian state.
  • Alien invasion sci fi is rooted in fear of colonialism happening to you, and sci-fi in general has a lot of colonialism undertones.
  • Cosmic horror is rooted in racism and an “unknown not-like-you” group making their homes in your home, with Lovecraft being a terrible racist even by the standards of his time.
  • The Pentagon literally funds military movies to be pro-American-military propaganda, and if you’re going to use the military in your movie, you can’t paint it in a bad light otherwise you can’t use any of the American military’s official symbols.

These ideas come from somewhere. And that “somewhere” is the world around you. Police have spent decades building up “copaganda” to paint themselves as a place that can do good if the right people are in charge. This is a very deliberate, very political act.

So trying to write something “apolitical” is not only impossible, but it’s going to side with the oppressors. Because oppressors make their position look like the neutral one. When it’s anything but.

Police As-Is Cannot Be Accountable

John Oliver breaks down how prosecutors and police work so closely together that they are coworkers, and absolutely do not want to put a bad cop on the stand because of not wanting to lose the trust of the police as a whole. This is not even counting qualified immunity, or the cultural perception that police are always the good guys thanks to decades of police media showing them as the good guys. This is what leads to acquittals and not guilty verdicts, because we as a society have been primed to believe police actions are always reasonable.

Take a gander at this video to find out more about (the lack of) police accountability: Police Accountability: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

Alternatives to Police (For your story / characters)

  • Military (written critically)
  • Private investigators
  • Data scientists / hacker groups
  • Activist organizations
  • Doctor or nurse
  • Superheroes, Anti-heroes

Depending on what you’re going for, police as a profession are highly replaceable.

If you want a sense of brotherhood and community in a mostly-paperwork-but-can-be-violent setting, the military can be critiqued while also painting the military-industrial complex in a bad light. Soldiers join for a multitude of reasons, from escaping abuse to escaping poverty. Most are treated terribly, especially when marginalized.

Private investigators can also be an option, although these can be just as corrupt, there’s less systemic baggage towards the profession (and they often take on cases that police refuse to touch, such as gay men disappearing in the 80s and nobody except the families caring—Herb Baumeister is the killer that private investigators had to hand police on a silver platter before they even thought about it. The wikipedia article neglects to mention how much community pressure it took for police to act; Behind Mansion Walls does a better job of explaining the actual case progression).

Data scientists and hacker groups can also get similar “fight crime” feel, just with less shootouts.

Activist organizations can also be on the “solve problems make the world better”, where the antagonists are police and the FBI (look up COINTELPRO for data on this).

Even working as a doctor or nurse for Planned Parenthood can be extremely dangerous. But like with cops, doctor propaganda ignores the systemic racism exhibited by medical professionals, along with ableism and fatphobia (which in the west is rooted in racism). BIPOC receive much worse care than their white counterparts, and stories centering doctors should acknowledge this. Remember: unless the protagonist is explicitly the villain, readers are meant to sympathize with their choices and find their behaviour (mostly) reasonable.

And, of course, there are always superheroes who feel the law isn’t doing a good enough job taking care of actual criminals so they go out and do it themselves.

If you’re stuck on police as the only possible “good guys” when it comes to fighting for justice, then you need to do some serious examination of your pro-cop biases and realize how little they actually do in terms of community help.

– Mod Lesya

Is it the right time for this story?

This is one of those “Read the room” types of stories. There’s a lot here that can go wrong, or rather, be poorly-received from readers, particularly Readers of Color.

Police are murdering and assaulting Black, Indigenous, other PoC, and white citizens faster than our cellphone cameras can keep up with. The police brutality reports are endless. Look at current events, and the reoccurring protests over yet another Black person murdered at the hands of police.

You submitted this question before George Floyd’s murder on May 25 2020, which has kicked off one of the largest Civil Rights movement in history thus far. However, we’re in the midst of several other prominent police or authorites-killing-PoC cases. Actually, I’m confident no matter what time someone ends up reading this, there would have been another fairly recent murder at the hands of the police to talk about. Unfortunately.

Know their names: Black people killed by police in 2020

These killings are dehumanizing, and can be seriously triggering. Combine that with the fact that there’s this push to continue defending and glorifying cops time and time again.

So ask yourself: Is this the time to write a story that serves to humanize police? A group that is historically and already given the benefit of the doubt and has the backing of the majority, the government, media, the president?

Diverse Cops – but aren’t they different?

Cops of Color, LGBTQA+ or otherwise, can be complicit in the system that systemically supports white supremacy.

  • Look up Sandra Bland, George Floyd, and the Black cop(s) involved in the cover-up or participating in brutality against them. 
  • Or ex-cop Daniel Holtzclaw, who specifically targeted poor Black women to sexually assault.
  • BIPOC can uphold and participate in police brutality and often anti-blackness, so again; we can’t  really look at individuals, but at the system as a whole. 

Having diversity will not necessarily balance out the fact that police as a whole harass, abuse, brutalize and kill citizens at alarming rates.

A Systemic Problem

The police force has systemic issues of discrimination. It’s built into the fabric of the institution. It’s not a matter of good cops, bad cops. Especially if those “Good cops” stand back and watch the “bad ones" harm others. 

Just recently in the writing of this post, Buffalo, New York cops were filmed pushing a 75 year old white man, Martin Gugino, to the ground. He bleed from his ears from the fall on concrete, is in critical condition, and the two cops who did it were suspended. The last I read, Martin Gugino has a fractured skull, a brain injury and cannot walk.

In the video, you can see one cop trying to help the man and being stopped by his fellow officer. He obeyed. So much for the good cops who step in, huh?

In response to that suspension, 57 officers resigned in solidarity with those cops. This goes to show that police can and do respond to the actions of their fellow cops. 

57 Buffalo officers resign from special squad over suspension of two who shoved 75-year-old

Also consider what happens when actual good cops step up. 

A black Buffalo cop stopped another officer’s chokehold. She was fired. 

(Officer Cariole Horne)

Again, it’s not isolated incidents or only about individuals. It’s a culture, a systemic issue.

On that note, Cops of Color have certainly sued their employers for discrimination in the workplace. And there are plenty of fellow Cops of Color who have been unrecognized by their colleagues and faced manhandling and abuse at the hands of their fellow officer.

Writing this Story – Recognizing Brutality Exists First

I’d be wary of a writer covering this who didn’t have awareness of the racial and social climate of The Cops vs. Citizens. Be sure to get informed. A quick search for articles or stats from your country will provide a good start.

Police brutality is not just an American issue. It doesn’t necessarily have to result in murder for a problem to exist. Lesya talks more about global police brutality issues and the prison system. So before you rule it out in your own country, just because they have stricter gun laws, do your research to fill in the gaps of your understanding on these issues.

It’s also worth mentioning that cops choke, tase, assault and beat people so a gun isn’t needed to cause harm.

Is it propaganda to write Cops of Color characters?

Not necessarily. Cops of Color exist. Lgbtqa+ cops exist. However, you aim to make these characters sympathetic and relatable. That’s where it can be hit or miss for the readers.

Acknowledge the problems

This is one of those stories that almost has to discuss or at least acknowledge the issues that exist in the policing world. That includes brutality and excessive force, discrimination, murders, cover-ups, acquittals and so on. The more the story gets all intimate and cozy with your good cops, the more I’d want something that acknowledges systemic issues and how your cops are helping and reacting with that. You may not have a place to fit it all, but some portions of it should be acknowledged as the story shouldn’t predict it doesn’t exist.

Think about police brutality and corruption.

What do your cop characters stand for?

How would they react to a situation happening before their eyes or in their department involving fellow officers?

Balance the characters

Is this story about police officers, or include some but has a variety of other characters? Having more than a story About Cops would make this much more approachable.

It’d be nice to have a wider cast of characters that are 1) not police 2) not just villains or enemies of the police. This creates some balance and allows us to feel sympathy for other characters as opposed to feeling like we’re being pushed to only care about the cops.

Let me remind you of Lesya’s police alternatives for your storytelling: 

  • Military (written critically)
  • Private investigators
  • Data scientists / hacker groups
  • Activist organizations
  • Doctor or nurse
  • Superheroes, Anti-heroes

Create another focal point

I’m much more inclined to read a story with a strong plot to carry us through the story. For example, solving a murder (Many police dramas), uncovering something supernatural (Sleepy Hollow before they ruined it), surviving the apocalypse (The Walking Dead; Hey Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh!).

A fluffy, domestic cop story meant to show daily life is one thing. A story that has a strong force or goal to carry the plot and doesn’t center itself on just the cops is another. And will be better received, in my opinion.

One story is about the cops and their lives.

Another happens to have cops that are mainly doing something else.

-Mod Colette

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.