The latest episode of Chicago P.D. explores the tumultuous relationship between the Chicago police department and the public in light of the shootings of unarmed black men.
Officer Kim Burgess (Marina Squerciati) is accused of shooting an unarmed black man in the episode, titled “Justice” and airing at 10/9c May 11 on NBC.
The episode serves as a backdoor pilot for a possible fourth of NBC’s Chicago-set series from Dick Wolf. The show’s writers and cast members were unavailable for an interview recently, but I spoke with Squerciati and Wolf at the January session of the TV Critics Association in Pasadena.
“There are really horrible things that have happened. It’s a live wire right now in terms of the conversation,” Squerciati said when I asked her feelings about the controversial Chicago shootings and whether she thought the show should rip those stories from headlines.
“It’s a difficult sort of place to be for the show,” she said. “But I think it’s very important that we don’t ignore what’s happening out there.”
At the time, she had no idea her character would be at the center of the story exploring the subject. In the episode, Officer Sean Roman (Brian Geraghty) is critically injured by a shooter who ambushes him and Burgess as they sit in their squad car. When Burgess pursues the suspect on foot, she fires on and hits a man wearing similar clothes. Police can’t find a weapon, and the 17-year-old high school honor student claims to be an innocent bystander.
The characters and actors in the possible “Justice” series appear in the episode. Assistant state’s attorneys Peter Stone (Philip Winchester) and Dawn Harper (Nazneen Contractor) put together the state’s case under the supervision of State’s Attorney Mark Jefferies (Carl Weathers). Investigators Lori Nagle (Joelle Carter) and Daren Okada (Ryan-James Hatanaka) aid in the investigation. Lorraine Toussaint reprises her “Law and Order” role as defense attorney Shambala Green.
In January, many in Chicago were seething over law enforcement’s handling of the shootings of black men, including teenager Laquan McDonald, by white officers. The city became a hot spot for the Black Lives Matter movement, with protests continuing into April when a mayoral task force issued a report that said police “have no regard for the sanctity of life when it comes to people of color.”
The “Justice” episode includes protests and conveys the tensions between citizens and law enforcement in Chicago. The circumstances of the shooting depicted—and the legal battle that follows—are much different.
“We steal the headlines, not the body copy,” Wolf said in January. (“Chicago P.D.” showrunner Matt Olmstead told TVGuide.com that Wolf came up with the squad car ambush after reading about a January shooting of a Philadelphia police officer as he sat in his patrol car.)
Wolf agreed that shootings of unarmed black teens have happen at “a very, very disturbing rate.” But, he said, he wouldn’t want to be put in the position of deciding if a suspect had a gun and was about to shoot at you.
“I think that in this environment, if you put yourself behind the wheel of a patrol car in what is acknowledged to be gang territory or disputed territory or a high crime-rate district and if you are a cop—whether you’re Chinese, Hispanic, black, white—you don’t know whether you’re coming home that night,” he said. “It’s a very, very dangerous job, and mistakes are going to get made.”
Both Wolf and Squerciati, as many of the cast and crew of the Chicago-set shows have said in the past, praised Chicago’s police officers, firefighters, EMTs and doctors as heroes.
Squerciati added that “Chicago P.D.” doesn’t represent the “bad apples” that most likely exist in police departments.
“I think it’s important to honor and respect what the good cops do,” she said, “and not paint everyone with the same brush.”