On his show, Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, the comedian and former Daily Show correspondent has dedicated himself to an entire season of trying to truly understand policing in America. Like Cenac himself, the series is wry, thoughtful, and rational, as well as deeply pissed off, with Friday’s installment looking at the ways that police officers choose—or do not choose—to deploy deadly force when confronting suspects.
Cenac’s strategy is to mix expert talking heads, in-depth interviews, and his own soft-voiced but sharp-edged commentary to come at each week’s examination of the issue of gun violence from comprehensive, often unexpected angles. On this week’s episode, Cenac talked to cops, family and friends of people shot by cops, organizers trying to reform police accountability, de-escalation tactics, and use of force standards, and advocates of non-lethal weapon alternatives for police.
An officer involved in a fatal 2014 shooting explains how that split-second decision to shoot haunts him every night—and inspires him to equip his colleagues with a new pepper-and-water projectile whose effects the inventor describes as suddenly being in the middle of a “crawfish boil.” The brother of a hearing-impaired Native American man killed in what was judged an unjustified police shooting talks about the needlessness of his death. Current and former police officers discuss both the difficulty of the job and the ways those doing it could be trained better in the “use of force continuum.” (And violent clips of Chicago P.D. inspire Cenac to wonder how a season where about eight cops have shot their weapons over 100 times skews public perception about what the job actually entails.) Like all of this season of Problem Areas, the approach is a measured, entertaining, and, overall, human one. Which makes its airing on a night when not one, but two deadly school shootings have cost at least 11, mostly school-aged people their lives all the more crushing, somehow.
With the benefit/curse of doing a nightly show for perspective, Jimmy Kimmel aired a somber (also pissed-off) cold open to his show, which aired at the same time as Cenac’s. Addressing the camera—and those lawmakers on the other side of it—as he has had to do so many times in recent years, Kimmel played clips of the shattered, tearful students and parents at Santa Fe High School, interspersed with gung-ho, NRA-touting speeches from Republicans like Paul Ryan, Ted Cruz, Mike Pence, and Donald Trump.
The juxtaposition, playing out without further comment from Kimmel (and ending with the web address for gun control group Everytown For Gun Safety) was what those politicians and their supporters will no doubt call unfair, since it showed the yawning humanity gap between a furious young survivor explaining her lack of surprise that America’s unregulated, NRA-sponsored gun fetishism finally killed some of her friends to Trump smugly assuring people at the recent NRA convention that no one will ever “do anything” to remotely infringe upon their rights to everything from high-capacity magazines to the most deadly assault weapons. As Kimmel said in introducing the clip, “They know the truth... but they’re too cowardly to do anything” but stuff their hands in pockets “full of gun money.” He also urged people to register to vote for some candidates who will actually do something to close that humanity gap a little.