Welcome to our weekly series “Cry of the Week,” in which we highlight whatever moment made us ugly cry on our couches the most in the past seven days.
It’s hard for a community to find closure after one of their own is taken from them. But in the penultimate episode of Shots Fired, a grieving town is finally given a chance to express their pain and fury in a way we don’t often see in the real world.
Fox’s timely event series has offered an unflinching examination of our criminal justice system through the lens of a small Southern town which is struggling with the aftermath of two racially-tinged shootings — one involving a black cop shooting a white kid, Jesse Carr, the other involving the unsolved murder of a black teenager, Joey Campbell, whose death failed to capture the national spotlight in the same way.
The two cases have seemed inexorably linked from the beginning — from the unimaginable grief of the boys’ two grieving mothers down to the symmetry in their initials — and in episode, “Come to Jesus,” we discovered the extent of the corruption in the Gate County Sheriff’s Department, which undoubtedly contributed to both their deaths.
The man who pulled the trigger on Joey was Arlen Cox, a wealthy white real-estate mogul who was serving as an untrained auxiliary deputy on patrol with the sheriff’s department when he allegedly reached for his taser and “accidentally” drew his weapon on the unarmed teen. (Sound familiar?)
But Joey’s shooting was also covered up by Sheriff Platt and Lt. Breeland to save their own careers. The latter even falsified police reports to protect Cox, and also planted weed in Jesse’s car after he was shot, in order to retroactively try and justify the stop and search of his vehicle.
At the end of episode 9, after Cox confessed to his part in Joey’s murder and implicated Breeland in the cover-up, the disgraced lieutenant finally came to apologize to Joey’s mother and brother — but it was too little, too late.
Breeland’s lackluster apology gave Joey’s younger brother, Shawn, a chance to smack the crooked cop in the jaw, which was a satisfyingly liberating moment, but the tears really started flowing when the Campbells’ neighbors emerged from their houses to shame Breeland and chase him away, so that Joey’s mom didn’t have to say a word.
In reality, we rarely have the opportunity to face the people who have wronged us and tell them exactly what we think of them, and while jeering Breeland won’t bring Joey back, that’s probably not what’s at the heart of the community’s reaction to Breeland. He’s a symbol of a larger problem — a system of oppression that they feel has targeted them for centuries.
Protesting one man may not solve the problems of the whole apparatus, but it’s undeniably cathartic, especially for folks who, just a few episodes ago, were met with tear gas and water cannons when they tried to express themselves. Violence is never the answer, but a little righteous anger can go a long way — and it makes for powerful TV.
Shots Fired airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.