Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Law & Order: HCU (Hate Crimes Unit)

Since the popular NBC television crime and legal drama, Law & Order, premiered almost two decades ago in 1990 (only recently showing signs of finally flagging to a close), it has spawned two other spin-offs—Law & Order: SVU (Special Victims Unit), and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

The recent story about how detectives from the "Hate Crimes Unit" investigated the "crime" of a damaged Koran in a home on Long Island has reminded me of the older story from 2007 about a student at Pace University in New York City who twice put Korans in a toilet, who was arrested and charged with a felony, which his lawyer bargained down to disorderly conduct with a punishment of 300 hours of community service (no, this story is not from The Onion, unfortunately) -- and so, with tongue in cheek and my wits about me, I shall recreate my idea for a new television spin-off: Law & Order: HCU (Hate Crimes Unit).

[TV screen blacks out, then slowly reveals the show logo, as an unctuously gravelly voice-over intones:]

“In the criminal justice system, hate crimes and Islamophobically based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives, or Religious Policemen and Policewomen, who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad, known as the Hate Crimes Unit: These are their stories.”

[Cue violently percussive, reverberating gavel-hitting sound, twice]

Opening Scene: Two young college students, returning to their dormitory late at night after a pro-Palestinian rally and after-party on campus, one a swarthy good-looking Middle Easterner wearing jeans and a black sateen shirt, the other an attractive white female with extremely short red-purple hair, a nose-ring, jeans and a t-shirt advertising Michael Moore’s movie, Sicko, fashionably riding high on her midriff to expose the upper half of a "Coexist" tatoo snaking around from her left buttock up to her hip. As they ascend the stairs and turn onto the hallway, their small talk—initially referencing the rally they had just attended and peppered with politically correct comments about the “haters” who had tried to disrupt the rally—soon turns to hints by the girl to the young man if he might want to come into her dorm room for a beer or something. The young man appears a little embarrassed by her bold invitation, and expresses his inner struggle between a demure reluctance and an obvious temptation by asking her where the floor rest rooms are. She points down the hall and he goes there. As she is unlocking her door, switching on the light, and setting her backpack down inside, suddenly she hears her male friend shouting from where the rest room is. She rushes down the hall to join him, and he is standing at the open door with a look of horror on his face, pointing off to the single toilet inside. The hand-held camera moves in cinema veritĂ© style towards the toilet and peers into the bowl: there, wedged in the water lies a Koran.

[Cue violently percussive, reverberating gavel-hitting sound, twice]

 Scene Two: Various police personnel are plodding about their business on the hall of the dormitory in and around the scene of the crime—the rest room. The L&O HCU team—Detective Mohammad Abdallah played by Arnold Vosloo (the actor who played the bald Muslim villain Habib Marwan on 24) and Detective Aisha ab-Banani played by Mila Kunis (the Ukranian-American actress who played Ashton Kutcher’s girlfriend on That ‘70s Show) wearing a turquoise niqab to go with her fashionably coffee-colored pantsuit—step in to oversee the preliminary investigation and make sure all the evidence needed for all subsequent forensic analysis is noted and collected. (Sadly, Jerry Orbach is nowhere to be found...)  This pair of hate crime detectives are both Muslim-Americans, model citizens who seem secularized, have a wry, casual sense of humor, and let pop culture references—mixed with slyly sarcastic digs against various forms of “bigotry” in society that the show’s writers cleverly insinuate into the script week after week—slip trippingly from their lips in their banter on the job. Det. Mohammed and Det. Aisha spend a few minutes separately interviewing the students, in a gender appropriate fashion, who witnessed the crime—the former taking the male student aside, the latter the female student. 

After Det. Mohammed greets the young man with the standard Muslim greeting (“Assalamu alaikum”), recieving the obligatory response (“Wa alaikum assalam”), the Q&A that ensues basically serves to underscore the terrible trauma the young Muslim student had to endure on seeing his holy book so savagely defiled, but otherwise yields nothing of investigative worth. The young non-Muslim female, however, does reveal to Det. Aisha, unwittingly, some information useful to the detectives—namely, that the other day, one of her girlfriends had overheard an altercation in that same rest room.

[Cue violently percussive, reverberating gavel-hitting sound, twice]

Scene Three: The female student’s girlfriend, encountered an hour later by the detectives while she exits one of her classes, basically tells them that a week prior, a Jewish student and a Muslim student were having a verbal fight in the rest room that escalated into what she heard was a threat. . .  Yes, it's that old "cycle of violence" that's the problem.  If only we could all just get along.

At any rate, the readers get the idea. The essence of the satire is achieved. I don’t have the stamina to elaborate the detailed construction of the entire plot for this episode according to the Law & Order boilerplate calculated to lead the viewer down an intricate maze of false leads until the second half, where the accused go through a trial and the prosecutor, the District Attorney, tries to make a case—in the stead of the People of the State of New York—for the guilt of the accused. We can imagine how the ins and outs of the plot would proceed—perhaps the detectives follow a lead that seems to uncover a group of Islamophobes with ties to the campus, but, while that lead proves to be unconnected to this particular “hate crime”, it does provide the writers a chance to wax about Islamophobia and its “bigotry”. The lead that finally bears fruit might turn out to be a lone “hater” who, nonetheless, during the courtroom drama of the second half of the show, would arouse the full wrath of the Executive A.D.A., Jack McCoy, played by Sam Waterston—whom, perhaps, we could imagine has been replaced by a Muslim-American played by Ben Kingsley (of course reprising more his multiculturally saintly character from Ghandi than his pathologically truculent character from Sexy Beast).

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