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How The CWverse Is Changing Its Portrayal of Police

[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Flash Season 7, Batwoman Season 2, Supergirl Season 6, Black Lightning Season 4, and Superman & Lois Season 1.]Over the course of one week, two main characters on the CWVerse’s Batwoman and The Flash resigned from their positions as law enforcement officers: Second-in-command Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy) left the Crows in Gotham, and Captain Joe West (Jesse L. Martin) departed the Central City Police Department (CCPD). Both characters made these decisions following unlawful acts by members of their departments, following a pattern in recent CWVerse shows of central characters being increasingly at odds with organizations of power. It’s a trend which reflects real-world controversies surrounding the police and the military, especially in the U.S.

The shows on The CW haven’t shied away from discussing real-world problems before, with Batwoman Season 2 highlighting racism in America and Supergirl addressing immigration reform and gun control. But in general, the heroes have generally worked alongside law enforcement, albeit contentiously. On Arrow, the police placed Team Arrow firmly in the vigilante category in Starling City (later Star City) before absorbing the Team as a special unit. Founding member of Team Flash, Barry Allen (Grant Gustin), is a forensic scientist with the CCPD. His adoptive father Joe West was, until recently, a high-ranking police officer. Supergirl (Melissa Benoist), J’onn J’onzz (David Harewood), Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), and Brainiac-5 (Jesse Rath) were part of the Department of Extranormal Operations (DEO), a governmental agency that monitored alien activity and apprehended extraterrestrial miscreants. Black Lightning’s Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) was close friends with Freeland Police Department’s Chief Henderson (Damon Gupton).


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Image via The CW

But while the superheroes in the CWverse have all had connections with law enforcement, negative and positive, these shows are now beginning to deal with the reckoning that today’s activists and marginalized communities have been demanding. Movements like #BlackLivesMatter and #DefundthePolice have emphasized how systemic biases in law enforcement are literally killing people of color, especially Black people, in the US and other nations. As more videos and accounts of police brutality come to the surface, it’s no wonder that our entertainment has adapted to the changing attitudes towards the system.

The newest CWverse show, Superman & Lois, makes a more direct connection to these events with Clark Kent (Tyler Hoechlin) butting heads with his father-in-law, Sam Lane (Dylan Walsh). Lane is the head of the Department of Defense (DOD) and he tries to wield Superman as a weapon of the government. In Episode 6 of Superman & Lois, the DOD attempted to apprehend a superpowered teenager, who is also a person of color, using live rounds and kryptonite. Superman took the brunt of the shots, thereby saving the boy’s life, and consequently, Superman’s faith in the DOD’s mandate has been shaken.

In the final season of Supergirl, the titular heroine and her super-friends no longer work with the DEO. After the events of “Crisis on Infinite Earths,” the DEO on Earth-Prime transformed into a subsidiary run by Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer), and not only were his detention methods brutal, but Lex used the DEO’s resources to further his position with Leviathan, who were bent on world-domination. The DEO was then destroyed and never rebuilt. Supergirl and her team now work independently to protect National City and the world.

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Image via The CW

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As the hero Black Lightning, Jefferson didn’t always see eye-to-eye with Police Chief Henderson, who was the One Good Cop™ on the show. But, following Henderson’s death, Black Lightning has demonstrated what happens when such a character is no longer around to assist the primary superhero. The new chief of police, Ana Lopez (Melissa De Sousa), is willing to do anything to take down meta-humans, and is also in the supervillain’s pockets, adding another layer of corruption to the department’s actions. During its four seasons, Black Lightning has frequently demonstrated how minority populations are brutally policed or outright neglected by governmental organizations. And the final season features extreme policies undertaken by the Freeland Police Department with regards to meta-humans.

Meanwhile, on The Flash, Joe West found himself going up against Kristen Kramer (Carmen Moore), an army officer with a vendetta against meta-humans. Kramer was betrayed by a meta-human once, and now she’s painting the entire community with the same brush. She went after Frost (Danielle Panabaker), a member of Team Flash, who used to be a criminal; despite all that Frost had done for her city since turning away from crime, Kramer couldn’t accept Frost’s redemption. Instead, Kramer tried to enforce a law that would make a meta-human cure the only rehabilitation option for meta-human criminals. When Frost sacrificed her freedom to ensure no meta would be forced to take the cure, Kramer introduced a new policy in the CCPD to simply shoot bullets laden with the cure at metahumans. Kramer’s actions weren’t only legal, they were sanctioned by the governor. Joe could no longer stomach going against his principles, and he walked away from the institution to which he’d dedicated his life.

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Image via The CW

One could argue that the above-mentioned incidents only tangentially hint at systemic control over marginalized communities. However, the recent Batwoman episode “And Justice for All” dealt directly with police discrimination. Three Black characters — Ryan Wilder (Javicia Leslie), Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson), and Sophie Moore — were unjustly arrested by the GCPD despite not committing any crimes; meanwhile, the police tried to defuse situations with white characters who were on murderous rampages. Then, Sophie’s position as acting head of the Crows in Gotham was undermined by newcomer Agent Russel Tavaroff (Jesse Hutch). Moore sent Tavaroff and his team to subdue civilians who had taken a toxic dose of a drug called Snakebite. Despite her orders, Tavaroff shot and killed all the civilians, leading to Sophie quitting the Crows. The episode ended with the trigger-happy Tavaroff shooting one of the main characters, Luke Fox. Was it necessary for viewers to tune in to watch their favorite Gotham nerd get shot by the police? Probably not. But it was another way for Batwoman to show how these so-called protective agencies aren’t interested in protecting everyone equally.

While the Crows and the GCPD aren’t interchangeable, they share many defining factors, especially in this season of Batwoman. Depending on the property, the GCPD has been portrayed as anything from incompetent to outright lethal. And now, so are the Crows. Recent actions by these law enforcers in the CWverse could impact how future shows depict Gotham law enforcement in action. We know that Titans will be moving to Gotham City in its upcoming third season, and one of the new characters is Barbara Gordon (Savannah Welch), the Commissioner of the GCPD. Will she take on the role as the One Good Cop™, or will Barbara be a more ambiguous hero like her father Jim Gordon on Fox’s Gotham series? The GCPD will reportedly also be the focus of The Batman spin-off show starring Jeffrey Wright’s Commissioner Gordon. If that show goes down the police procedural route, like the well-received comic series Gotham Central, then the show can hardly avoid tackling the abuses of the system, especially with a Black character heading the department.

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Image via The CW

With such sweeping changes to how CWverse characters interact with official law enforcement, we have to ask ourselves, what’s the endgame? Supergirl and Black Lightning will conclude with their current seasons, but what will the characters on Batwoman and The Flash do about the systemic problems in their cities? Leaving law enforcement behind isn’t an option for everybody – as we see on Black Lightning, Detective Hassan Shakur (Wallace Smith) believes in Freeland’s meta-human heroes, but he has to follow his Chief’s orders and apprehend them or lose his livelihood. How does Sophie walking away from the Crows stop further deaths at the hands of Tavaroff and his ilk? How does Joe West’s resignation prevent meta-humans from being shot with the cure?

While Sophie and Joe are just individuals within a system, the solution isn’t always for the good people to leave; it’s for them to keep fighting. Joe can continue to protect his city and make a difference as a member of Team Flash. Sophie has the option to join Team Batwoman, or work alongside her sister and Ryan who are setting up community centers to educate and protect disadvantaged people in Gotham. But the buck shouldn’t stop with these characters. These shows have an opportunity to further reflect the work that advocates are doing in real life to make significant changes, as the main characters could join hands with activists working for massive systemic improvements and against extreme policies. Part of the purpose of entertainment is to educate and empathize, and The CW is doing the work. These superhero shows are already mirroring the real-world problem of systemic prejudice. The next step is to present the solutions that could help make a difference, too.

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