“Mother, mother. There’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother. There’s far too many of you dying.” An instrumental of Marvin Gaye’s classic song “Mercy, Mercy Me” plays as the camera pans from Brandon Parker’s dead body to the Capitol building, visible from the scene of the tragedy. It was a juxtaposition of a symbol of freedom with proximity to an event showing the institutional oppression of American citizens. It was a kick in the chest.
It hit me in the core from start to finish because it picked at our collective open wound regarding race in America, specifically police brutality toward black lives. It presented it to us on an ugly platter and made strong statements that were not just bold, but necessary.
Pulled from the real events related to the murder of Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson in August 2014, this episode of Scandal focused on the killing of black teenager Brandon Parker by a police officer. It tells the whole story, from the militarization of police in response to peaceful protesters to the media blackout caused by the attempts to silence members of the press. It includes the police department’s attempts to bury security tapes, as well as the highly unlikely narrative leading to the boy’s murder. There’s even a blond, trigger-happy cop whom I shall call Filson (for fake Darren Wilson).
Olivia shows up just in time to see Brandon’s father, Clarence, standing over his body with a shotgun, demanding to know the name of the man in blue who killed his black son. He wants an answer to why his son is laying in a pool of blood, and he wants justice. Marcus Walker, an activist from the neighborhood, takes up the call for justice leading a chant of “STAND UP. FIGHT BACK. NO MORE BLACK MEN UNDER ATTACK.”
Olivia is hired to help the Washington Police Department handle the optics, but she quickly realizes that she is on the wrong side. This isn’t about PR. As Marcus rightfully asks, “When will the people we pay to protect us stop gunning us down in the streets?”
The chief of police (Connors) tells Liv that Brandon was holding a brand new cell phone box in his hand and that he fit the description of a shoplifting suspect at 5’10”, medium build, and black. You know, the EVERYBLACKMAN who people pull out their pocket to blame any- and everything on. EVERYBLACKMAN is very busy, because he seems to be the only one who commits crimes, and he must have cloned himself because he definitely covers ground. Anyhow, apparently, a cop saw Brandon and stopped to question him. The boy seemed to be insulted by it so he charged at him and pulled out a knife, forcing the cop to defend himself and shoot him.
Yes, because that full bottle of bullshit is likely. Because a black boy has a guaranteed death wish and will make sure it happens by charging at a cop.
This isn’t even about class. This isn’t about degrees. This isn’t about keeping your head down. Mr. Parker is a successful executive, raising his son by himself. Brandon never left the house without telling him where he was going, and he had a part-time job and plans to become an electrician after he graduated from high school in June. But he never gets the chance. This is not about a thug who was killed. This is about a boy walking in his own neighborhood, stopped and deemed hostile and shot down. This is a story that is far too common in America, where people live in fear of being the next trending hashtag on injustice.
One thing I appreciated about this episode is how it tried to address the stages of what happens when there’s injustice against black people in the U.S. Olivia represented both sides of the outrage coin, first accusing Marcus of using the event to amplify his activism, but the gravity and wrongness of it gets to her and she finally feels the burden of blackness. Scandal has a black woman as the lead, but her identity and story isn’t really defined by her blackness. In this episode she is forced to face it and speak on it as a black person living in a world where white privilege is literally killing her skinfolk.
It also touched on the issue of allies speaking up with (not for) those who don’t look like them and against oppression at the hands of those who do. Senator Susan Ross’s meeting in the Oval Office with Mellie and Fitz, as they tried to vet her to become vice-president, was a surprisingly strong turn. She went from nearly being the butt of their conspiracy to place a weak person in the position of VP, to dropping truths about how what happened to Brandon would not happen to her daughter; her skin color would give cops pause before thinking she was an imminent threat, one that needed to be shot to be controlled.
Art is truly powerful when it gives you a visceral reaction. This happens the first time you see or hear it, and that same feeling bubbles back to the surface at the thought of it. In the scene where Olivia confronts Officer Newton for killing Brandon Parker and he goes into a rage, I wanted to jump through the screen and dropkick him in the face. He said things that supporters of trigger-happy cops and upholders of the system of oppression spew to defend ongoing injustice against black and brown people. He started with “you people,” and he spoke of the myth of black-on-black crime. He talked about the falsity of black people lacking the values to behave properly. He finished it with, “They didn’t teach him respect … Questioning his authority was NOT his right. His blood is NOT on my hands.”
I wanted to rage, because DOGS are meant to obey without question, not people. If being disrespectful justifies murder, then anyone who cuts you off in traffic can be killed, right? If the people who are supposed to protect us carry this resentment about us, how do they see us as anything but animals who should be controlled? How do they see our humanity? Well, TOO many do not, and that is why we know the name of Michael Brown. And Ezell Ford. And Rakia Boyd.
The heart of this episode is Clarence Parker (played by the amazing Courtney B. Vance), the father who can’t mourn his son properly because he has to fight for him to be seen as a person. The boy he had raised with the goal of getting him to 18 was lying in the street, a street painted with his blood, and all he wanted was answers and accountability. We cannot forget that for every name we speak in remembrance, there are people who loved them. Their pain is unbearable and what Mr. Parker did, sitting over his son’s body with a shotgun, is not a salve, but a fantasy for those who have nowhere to place their rage for a love one, pointlessly lost.
The painful realness and truth of the episode was set aside in the end.
The knife Filson said Brandon was holding was actually planted by Filson himself and his partner. It was from an actual shoplifter he had arrested and released on condition that he didn’t tell the story. Newton (the cop) was charged with altering evidence, perjury, filing a false report and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Also, David Rosen and the Justice Department opened a federal investigation on the D.C. police force.
Liv tells Mr. Parker, who is still sitting over his son’s body, that what Brandon pulled out of his pocket was the receipt for his phone, and that Newton is now behind bars. The man finally gets up and expects to be arrested, only for her to say he will not be arrested. Instead, she takes him to the White House for a private meeting with the president, who wants to express his condolences, one father to another.
The ending was clearly cathartic because it’s what we NEED to happen every time blue-on-black happens. This show is absolutely fiction, because instead of another cop getting paid leave for three months as hollow investigations are done, Brandon’s killer saw jail. I am glad that for a moment, we did see what justice could look like if it was a concept that applied to black and brown people. It was cathartic.
Black lives matter. They never said the phrase, but that was the clear message of this incredibly powerful episode of Scandal. This was bold, uncomfortable, necessary, and what I believe is the most important Scandal episode ever.
“You want to tell everybody on the hill that you came down to the hood and saved us. No, thank you, Olivia. Your black card is not getting validated today.” – Marcus Walker to Olivia, when she told him he’s just trying to get people riled up
“You talk about fairness and justice like it’s available to everybody. It’s NOT … I thought I was going to die [when I was kidnapped]. I lived in complete and total fear. Imagine feeling like that every single day of your life.” - Olivia to David
“That poor man whose son was shot dead in the street. My God. If anything like that ever happened to Kasey – my daughter, she’s 10 – but of course she’s white and the daughter of a senator so the police are actually gonna think twice before shooting her but that poor man … can you even imagine what he’s going through right now.” – Susan Ross
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the song played at the beginning was Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” It was “Mercy, Mercy Me.”