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Twenty-five years ago, George H.W. Bush’s infamous Willie Horton ad and the media frenzy surrounding the crack epidemic combined to put a definitively Black face on the "War on Crime." When brand-new TV network FOX was faced with a writers’ strike, owner Rupert Murdoch bet on an unscripted, super low-budget pilot that tapped into white audiences’ fears and preconceptions of Black criminality. The "reality" show COPS was born — and over the ensuing decades, the trendsetting series has radically altered what we see on TV.

Today, the COPS formula — which relies heavily on degradation and mockery of suspects, presumption of guilt, and audience identification with unfailingly “good guy” police protagonists — hasn’t changed a bit, despite a marked, bipartisan shift away from broken “tough on crime” policies in recent years. The show’s creator himself admits that COPS’ singular focus on making arrests, particularly for nonviolent drug offenses, wastes scarce public resources and contributes to massive overincarceration.

While we can only imagine what might have been had COPS never made it to air in the ’80s, we can take action today to ensure that this relic is finally dropped from FOX’s lineup, by letting its advertisers know we demand an end to these distorted, dehumanizing portrayals that exploit and endanger our communities. FOX programming executives will be meeting shortly to determine whether to renew the show for another season, and they need to hear from you.

Our country is slowly waking up to the race and class implications of the drug war. While those of us on the political left have been talking about this for years, it is emerging into mainstream thought and conversation. Much of the growth of the private prison industry and their accompanying pool of cheap forced labor has flown under the radar with the general public. But as they have gotten greedier and tried to expand their enforcement opportunities and resulting incarceration numbers, they have been exposed. Not only have they raised their public profile to the point where people are noticing them, they have also demonstrated the inherent danger and immorality of attaching a profit incentive to imprisonment.

Their antics in Arizona rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, pushing anti-immigrant propaganda to help fill cells. And while it took a while for the whole story to come out, it became clear that the "Papers Please" law was intended for the benefit of the private prison industry. They only used racial/cultural/social prejudices as a cover for their true intent - sort of like how marijuana became illegal.

Arizona alone was not enough though, to bring people to act. Undocumented immigrants were not a sympathetic enough group for many, especially on the right, to feel particularly outraged. But now, with the increasing number of stories about the "school-to-prison pipeline," that may be changing. The general public is becoming far more aware of the private prison industry and how they are sucking jobs from the economy, and unfairly sucking the most vulnerable children into the system. Add to this the public's growing rejection of the drug war, and we have the circumstances needed to create pressure for change. Getting this piece of FOX drug war propaganda off the air is a step in the right direction.

Thanks for reading. Please help to spread the petition via whatever social media you prefer.

Originally posted to kbman on Wed Mar 20, 2013 at 12:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by Police Accountability Group.

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