Season three of Showtime’s The Chi was purposefully devoid of the police, even while a major storyline revolved around the disappearance of a black woman, and one episode featured a disturbing scene showing what sex trafficked and drug addicted young women endure. The season four premiere changes all of that when a 15-year-old is the victim of police brutality during the May 23 episode, “Soul Food.”
The attack is as random as it is senseless. Jake Taylor (Michael Epps) and his friend Kevin (Alex R. Hibbert) are walking home from school when they get into a sort of schoolyard dispute with other kids their age. While it ends without much consequence, a white cop tells them to “knock it off” and asks Jake for his ID. Jake immediately refuses and, within seconds, the police officer has knocked him to the ground where he repeatedly and mercilessly punches him in the face. Kevin goes to take out his ID and another officer pulls his gun on him, further escalating the incident. One of their friends, Maisha (Genesis Denise Hale), films the incident.
Eventually, the officers decide that Jake has had enough, haul him into cop car, and drive away.
Jake: Man, what I got to show my ID for?
Kevin: Bro, just show him your ID.
Jake: Nah, fuck that.
[Officer tackles Jake to the ground as he tries to push him away]
Jake: Man, I ain’t do shit!
Officer: Stop resisting!
Jake: What I do? Get off me!
Young bystander: He’s just a kid!
Officer: Stop resisting!
Big Papi: He asked a fair question! What’d he do?
Jake: Come on, bro! Get off me, man!
Maisha: He’s just a kid! Let him go!
Kevin: All right, all right, I’ll show you my ID!
[While Kevin goes to get his ID, another white officer points his gun at him]
Other officer: Get on the ground! On the ground now!
Bystander: Stop it!
Big Papi: Officer, what did he do?
Bystander: He didn’t do shit! What’s wrong with you?
Big Papi: Let him go.
Kevin: What did he do?
The following scene shows Jake’s friends having flashbacks of the incident, unable to eat. They later release the video of the arrest and it goes viral.
Jake’s injuries are enough to warrant him receiving hospital treatment–albeit while handcuffed to the bed. When Kevin visits him, Jake muses, “Maybe if I had my uniform on, I would’ve walked away, too.”
Kevin responds, “No. I walked away ’cause I listened to the police,” which leads to a dispute with Jake telling him, “You should’ve had my back!”
Variety spoke with Justin Hillian, a writer for the show, with much of the discussion focusing on the police brutality scene. In one of his responses, Hillian implied that not complying with police like Jake could be the way to go, ultimately deciding, “there is no right or wrong answer”. (Emphasis added):
How did you approach the different ways subsequent anger and/or PTSD would show up in Jake and Kevin? How much of the aftermath for Jake is in reaction to feeling like Kevin didn’t have his back?
We had discourse in the room and there’s generational things, but there’s also just several schools of thought [about this] and we like to keep things in the gray. Jake isn’t wrong, in my opinion, with the way he handled it and neither is Kevin, but I know people who feel like Kevin did: “You should just comply, do what they say, go home,” and I know people like Jake who are like, “I shouldn’t have to do that.” That conversation, we wanted to play that out. And then about handling it differently, we just really wanted to show that these characters are different. For Jake, the way he came up, there was an expectation about things like this and it came out of incidents writers in the room have had. Just personally speaking, with an incident that I went through, I just wanted to move on; I didn’t want to talk about it. My thing was, “I got away, it’s fine.” It isn’t healthy, but it is something that happens and we try to be as honest as possible. And what’s so great about having these young men is that we get to explore these different avenues and see the consequences of each choice because it’s complicated and there is no right or wrong answer.
At the very end of the episode, Jake’s brother, Trig (Luke James), seeks revenge for the beating. Trig and his trans girlfriend, Imani (Jasmine Davis), have dug up enough information about that officer to know when he goes for his late-night run. At the right moment, Trig tackles the officer and seemingly kills him by repeatedly striking and stabbing him in the face with some sort of sharp object.
In other news, since the introduction of Kevin’s girlfriend, Jemma St. John (Judae’a), last season, viewers can also expect a diatribe of anti-capitalism, anti-white racism, or a mix of both for each episode.
Over breakfast, Jemma’s father is telling her and Kevin about how he wants people to feel safe in the area so that the Olympics may one day take place in Chicago. “And who’s supposed to make us feel safe–the police?” she asks. When her father reminds her that “not all police are bad,” she scoffs in response that he’s “spoken like a true capitalist,” perhaps foreshadowing the scene of police brutality which takes place later in the episode. Her father responds with, “Oh, that’s right, capitalism is the root of all evil, I’ll remember that the next time you want me to buy you a Chanel purse.” The St. John family is quite wealthy.
In another scene, Jemma complains about a teacher, “Miss Cranston [who] thinks she’s woke now ’cause she put a Black Lives Matter sign above her door.” When Kevin says he likes her, Jemma laments, “It would be nice if you found yourself on the right side of history every once in a while.” She’s disappointed Kevin won’t go with her to a “pro-black group” called B.A.M.N., which stands for “By Any Means Necessary.” No doubt her group will be stirring up trouble in the episodes to come as outrage grows over the police’s handling of Jake.
After a unique season with no police, The Chi just jumped the shark and became like every other show on television with an anti-police Black Lives Matter storyline.