Christopher Meloni and Diane Neal in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (1999)

‘Last Week Tonight’ Calls Out ‘Law & Order’s Troubling Legacy With Audiences and the Police

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John Oliver has consistently discussed the issues of police brutality and issues within the legal system that lead to criminal injustice. In the most recent episode, the show talked about Law & Order and its many spin-offs—which have, undoubtedly, shaped how general audiences view the police.

Now, this segment is very much my jam. I have been watching SVU, specifically, since I was a child, and it is only through the grace of the goddess that I did not fully internalize the things the show said. As an adult, it remains my problematic comfort show. I recently watched all twenty-three seasons because I was genuinely interested in how the show has (and has not) grown.

One of the most damning parts of the segment is when the former executive producer of SVU, Warren Leight, explains that most cops are not trained as to how to handle survivors/victims and end up watching SVU for tips. Even as someone aware of how underfunded and undertrained most law officers are, that is still chilling to hear. Especially since the show constantly attempts to justify the actions of police officers, including racial profiling.

There is an episode called “Amaro’s One-Eighty,” where one of the detectives, Nick Amaro, shoots and paralyzes an unarmed Black kid. He believed there were shots fired, but it happened when another cop accidentally fired their gun. Olivia Benson defends Amaro’s actions during the episode, to the point where she seems to ignore that a fourteen-year-old boy has been harmed. These moments of cops killing unarmed Black kids, or stop-and-frisking, are treated as something the police have to do to prevent rape. Then we jump to the post-George Floyd era, and we have an entire episode where Olivia deals with her own potential racial violence. Of course, they never mention the many times she’s defended cops from shooting Black kids in that conversation. They just recycle the Central Park Karen moment for easy cultural capital.

Oliver’s video is great, but the ultimate proof is in the show itself. For as much as it tries to address small things, SVU has long supported the thin blue line and, due to its own narrative needs, eternalizes the idea that rape victims lie. Not to mention the constant pushing for survivors to go to trial, even against their own emotional health. For all the people raised by Olivia Benson’s desire for justice for victims, the show can’t do that because the police’s job is not to get justice for survivors. If it were, they wouldn’t need to be trained by television.

[Update: Corrected that Amaro paralyzed a child and did not kill him. Honest mistake because he does shoot a lot of people in the show.]

(featured image: NBC)

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Princess Weekes
Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.