From the use of force, to racial profiling, to sexual misconduct, Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas has spent its thoughtful, funny first season examining, well, the most problematic areas of policing in America. (It’s not just a clever name.) In Friday’s episode, Cenac took his traveling investigation to Seattle, where he spoke to current and former law enforcement, as well as legal defense, drug treatment, and political figures currently engaged in what Cenac presents as a forward-thinking and complicatedly humanistic reexamination of how the police and courts approach illegal drugs and drug users.
That puts Seattle squarely in the beady-eyed, atavistic crosshairs of stereotypical authoritarian southern sheriff, longtime demonizer of “mary-juwanna,” and current Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Cenac, drolly mocking Sessions’ old school cries for a return to “hostility” toward drug use and users, asked Seattle’s pragmatically idealistic Mayor Jenny Durkan (or “The Durk,” according to the clearly admiring Cenac) for her response. Durkan, one of several Seattle officials touting—to various degrees—the benefits of treatment, safe injection sites, life-saving anti-OD medication Naloxone, needle exchanges, and redressing racial disparities in drug arrests, told Cenac that Sessions and his boss Donald Trump can try to bring their heavy-handed bullshit to town all they like—she doesn’t give a fuck. (Okay, The Durk didn’t say that precisely, but that was the vibe.)
As ever, Problem Areas weaved its way through a thorny issue with host Cenac’s signature dry comic sensibility and curiosity. Concerned more with listening to his selected law enforcement experts and those actually affected by the issue at hand, Cenac drew a comparison between what Seattle (and a few other cities) are doing with regard to rethinking the relationship between drug users and law enforcement, and Bunny Colvin’s doomed, fictional “Hamsterdam.” (Season three of The Wire, which Cenac correctly notes, you should really watch already.) But, with former SPD Chief Norm Stamper (a frequent Problem Areas talking head who invariably and reassuringly comes across like an elderly Jim Henson) actively calling for drug legalization, and other Seattle officials seemingly open to change, the prospect of real life Hamsterdam starts to seem at least a little more possible.