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The Truth About Treme, Part II

Posted on by Townsend Myers

Maybe I was just missing what everyone else was seeing, or maybe the story just wasn’t that strong, but up until this last episode (Ep 5, “Shame, Shame, Shame”) I really didn’t like Treme that much. Well call me late to the party, but I am officially a fan. Episode 5 did it for me.

Perhaps it was the larger influence that local writer Lolis Eric Elie had on the story (he is credited with the script), or perhaps it just took this much time for me to get the vibe of the show, but this is my New Orleans.

I had some criticisms to offer about a couple of aspects of the show in Part I of this blog. While much “criminal activity” has been made part of the story to date, in Part II of this post I would like to revisit the two general themes from Part I an offer my thoughts on on the accuracy of what are quickly becoming two of the main crime-related story lines in the show.

The Search for Daymo Brooks: Revised Grade B-

I gave this an “A-” in my earlier post because the notion of lost prisoners was legitimate and a story worth being told. I’m lowering the grade this time because the story is quickly turning from reality to made-for-TV drama. Granted, it’s good drama, and a good story – but accuracy-wise it’s starting to get off track. For instance, let’s assume the fact of a “missing” inmate, or as the story is told in Treme, an inmate posing as a different inmate. Kudos to the crusading Toni Bernette for discovering that “David Brooks” is really Keevon White, an imposter who has switched identification wristbands for his own selfish reasons. But his reluctance to provide an affidavit, the D.A’s “lack of evidence” argument in court, and the resulting legal dead-end is not how this would play out in reality.

First, the idea that the assertions of an attorney as an “officer of the court” (even an attorney making assertions to support her own case) would carry no weight in the absence of the affidavit of an inmate in State custody is absurd. It makes for great drama that the crusading attorney is powerless at the hands of the mighty State because she can’t get the murderous inmate to do the right thing and sign a statement, but its bogus.

My experience after the storm is quite different. The courts and prosecutors were far more willing to assist in locating inmates than they were inclined to hinder the process, especially if an accused murdered (Keevon White) was posing as someone arrested for, and presumably soon to be released, on minor charges. So its not a big leap to presume that the D.A. might want to help get this mess straightened out before it got even bigger. Besides the solution could be as simple as finding out where “Kevon White” is. (If Keevon White is “David Brooks” vis-a-vis a switched wristband, then David Brooks could now be “Keevon White”, right?)

The character, Toni, seems to be a well connected lawyer, and perfectly capable of a good New Orleans-style handshake deal. In fact, her insider connection to the NOPD presents one of the most compelling scenes in Treme to date, in my opinion (see below). Any assistant D.A. would have been more than willing to help Toni out under these circumstances.  So why does she seem to have this adversarial relationship with the D.A. in spite of all the reasons why she shouldn’t? Answer: better drama.

The New Orleans Police Department: Revised Grade B+

I’m bumping this grade up a couple of notches from Part I, mostly because we have moved from away from predictable depictions of NOPD as over-aggressive enforcers, towards a more institutional exploration of the dynamic between cops and post-Katrina New Orleans and its people. And I think Episode 5 was spot on on this score.

Witness the theft of Antoine Batiste’s trumpet by an NOPD officer. Do cops steal stuff from arrested people? You bet they do. Not all the time – probably only rarely – but it happens. And I have to admit, when I saw this plot line begin to develop I was cringing, thinking how this was going to be yet another in the theretofore litany of “bad cop” examples. But what did the writers do with this in Episode 5? They used it as an opportunity to tell a much more interesting and deep story, and one that is far more acutely accurate.

I remember the real second line shooting in January 2006. More pointedly, I remember how the city’s mood about crime changed after that. There had been a curious absence of crime up until that point, and folks had started thinking (maybe just dreaming) that this really was a new New Orleans. The second line was a celebration, at least in part, of that hopeful feeling of recovery. But, the hopeful feeling that everybody had about a new crime-free New Orleans faded almost immediately as shots rang out that day. Yes, New Orleans was coming back…good and bad.

And it is on the heels of that second line shooting that Toni Bernette confronts Lt. Colson of the NOPD about the stolen (and later pawned) trombone. What follows is one of the more relevant lines of the show so far, as Lt. Colson explains the crisis in the NOPD: A police force depleted by walk-offs and no-shows, officers that wanted to stay struggling to work without homes to live in, and allegations of police brutality in the wake of the storm. “The wheels are off the cart”, he says. “Crime is coming back and we ain’t ready. But you wanna talk about a trombone.”

The New Orleans Police Department after Katrina was a study in contrasts – cops who left vs. cops who stayed; good cops vs. bad cops; good cops vs. bad work conditions; and good and bad cops vs. crime. To a national audience used to simple “cops and robbers”, the post-Katrina NOPD is not a simple picture to paint. But it looks like the writers of Treme have decided that they are determined to try to paint it as accurately as possible, and judging from Episode 5, I’d say they have gotten off to a pretty good start.



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