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The following is a response to Reality TV show The First 48 thrives off America’s racist justice system by Hannah Harris Green.

I can’t come up with a brilliant sentence to start this off. I can only say that reality TV is the kind of cheap entertainment networks and viewers can’t get enough of. Despite the obvious harmful negative stereotype rehashing, more and more are being released yearly. One of the most popular is The First 48 which has been on air for years.

The First 48 is a reality cop drama. Each episode revolves around murders. Detectors are assigned to search for the killers. Suspects are produced. Most of them are found, interrogated, charged and eventually led to prison to get tried. All of this is done within the time span of 48 hours after the murder. However, if you watch the show, some suspects are not found within that time frame.

And if you watch the show, you will notice that almost all suspects and victims are black. After watching a few episodes myself, I caught on and realized that not even Cops, another long-running reality cop show, got shit on this. Cops also stereotype minorities, but The First 48 took it a step further that would delight black crime enthusiasts.

An image from one of The First 48’s episodes.

Hanna Harris Green writes:

This portrayal is not representative of American crime statistics. Although homicide arrests are disproportionately high among African Americans, about the same total number of white people are arrested in homicide cases as black people. The First 48’s overemphasis on black crime is symptomatic of a larger disrespect for African American communities, which many Americans deem inherently suspicious.

I couldn’t stand that such a show is still on. I think it needs to be cancelled as well. But even I was taken aback a little when I read an article on The Guardian that describes the show as more destructive to black people than I thought. It wasn’t just negative stereotyping. It has also ended black lives.

Green continues:

The First 48 wouldn’t be as cinematic it is if it didn’t routinely disregard the rights and safety of its subjects. The most shocking instance of disregard was the death of seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones in 2010. Detroit police officer Joseph Weekley shot Aiyana in the head after throwing a “flash-bang” grenade, a diversionary and disorientating tool, through her family’s window. Experts on crime in Detroit, including police officers and criminal defense attorneys, suspect Weekley used the evidently dangerous “flash-bang” for cinematic effect, saying that they had never heard of police using the device in this way.

Of course, we all know and remember the tragic death of Aiyana Stanley-Jones back in 2010. Yet, the show is still airing with no signs of letting up. I guess her murder was meaningless to network executives who only crave ratings over lives, isn’t that right, loyal viewers?

Aiyana Stanley-Jones

Not all suspects are guilty. Of course there’s a disclaimer that all suspects are innocent until proven guilty, but when it comes to black folks, it’s the oppose. We are guilty until proven innocent. And seeing a mugshot of a black male, guilty or innocent of whatever crime, would jolt the connection between black men and criminality involuntarily.

The show has also been accused of encouraging police to speed up investigations in order to fit the 48-hour narrative, thus hurriedly condemning suspects who would have otherwise received more scrutiny. Last month, Taiwan Smart sued the city of Miami for false arrest, false imprisonment, deprivation of civil rights and constitutional violations. Smart claims that he called the police after running from the scene where his two friends were murdered. When he and the police agreed to a meeting place, they arrested him, much to his surprise. In court, Smart claimed that his arrest and subsequent 19 months in jail stemmed from the police’s desire to “solve” the double murder “in an expeditious fashion for the television show First 48”. He accused the police of withholding documents about the case.

Even release from jail isn’t necessarily enough to erase the stigma that comes from appearing on the First 48. Tyson Mimms of Louisville, Kentucky sued A&E in 2011 for invasion of privacy and defamation. For over a year, the episode aired repeatedly with an onscreen message saying that Mimms was “awaiting trial”, even though his charges were dismissed due of lack of evidence before the episode first aired.

Mimms also claimed that a field producer tried persistently to get him to sign a release to appear on the show, and aired his interrogation even though he refused to sign. The episode in question, “Eye for an Eye – Dead End”, shows Mimms adamantly professing his lack of knowledge about the murder investigation, and subsequently being arrested. Immediately afterward, the investigating officer says that he is happy to “close the door” on the case.

Mimms’ lawyer said that because of this appearance, Mimms’ community has come to regard him as a murderer. Investigators who appear on the First 48 consistently imply that they have found their murderer at the end of each episode, even though every suspect is legally innocent until proven guilty. An appearance on the First 48 may not mean a prison sentence, but it can still make for a lifetime of social stigma. Mimms was shot to death last year, along with the mother of his child. The full circumstances surrounding their deaths are still unknown.

The media goes out of its way to portray police as heroic servants of the law, always out to get their men in the name of justice. They are always the good guys in any given program. Just watch any cop drama, police movie or cop-based reality show and you will see how upstanding cops are portrayed with the exception of Training Day, starring Denzel Washington as a corrupt, rouge black cop. 

Training Day poster

I’m not saying every cop is a pig. But I am saying is that sometimes art doesn’t always imitate life, and reality TV doesn’t represent real life.

But hey, people will argue that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. “It’s just entertainment.” Some people will say that even though they will watch it religiously using it as a reference during their troll outings.

Yes. Tell the family of Aiyana Stanley-Jones that it’s just a TV show. Tell Taiwan Smart that it’s just entertainment. Tell the family of Tyson Smith and the mother of his child that it’s no big deal.

To the families, friends and relatives of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Johnathan Ferrell, all other victims of police and vigilante violence and those unjustly incarcerated by a racist system of control, The First 48 is NOT just a TV show. It’s part of a larger problem. It feeds off of a racist injustice system. It notoriously recycles the criminal black man stereotype, all for the sake of viewership following an already bloated trend of creating more mindless reality television, proving once again that the lives of black people, even black youth, is worthless compared to ratings.

Dominika Stanley and Charles Jones, the parents of Aiyana-Stanley Jones