Following the grand jury verdicts in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and the nationwide protests that have followed, many people might wish to have an unflinchingly honest conversation about race and policing with an actual member of law enforcement. That’s exactly what W. Kamau Bell did.
Bell is a comedian known for funny and politically incisive work on his FX television show Totally Biased and his new Wolfpop podcast Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period. In September of this year, also known as the time before Serial, he recorded a candid and often irreverent discussion with retired LAPD officer Anthony Escobar and his frequent collaborator, comedy writer Ethan Berlin. Today that conversation is released as Coptalk, a special podcast episode as part of the Earwolf Presents series.
Bell explained that, “Late his summer, in the middle of a pilot shoot for a TV show, I had an extremely rare opportunity to hangout with, eat with, and travel with an ex-LAPD cop named Anthony Escobar. Due to the nature of what we were working on the producers thought we needed security for me, and Anthony was hired. I was at first reticent to put my life and well being in his hands (due to the fact I’m black and he is blue), but by the end we had laughed, talked, and bonded and had several frank, but also funny discussions about policing in America.
“The last day of the trip myself, Anthony, and comedy writer Ethan Berlin decided to record our conversation not knowing if we would ever release it or not. But over the last several months I decided that the conversation that we had wasn’t being had anywhere else I had seen or heard. And even if it was being had somewhere, it definitely wasn’t this laid back or funny. And this is at a time when we need all ideas on the table and all hands on deck to figure out community and police relations.”
During this spirited exchange–recorded before the grand jury verdicts were released–Bell asks Escobar to walk them through how police officers are trained to approach a person who the officer has “reasonable suspicion” may be involved in criminal activity, and how, based on his experience, he would handle several hypothetical situations. They talk about how heroic depictions of archetypical Dirty Harry-style cops might influence public perception, people who want to become cops, and police officers themselves.
The events that happened in Ferguson the day that Michael Brown was killed are also up for analysis. Escobar explains how the situation looks from a police officer’s perspective while Bell questions why it seems like police go for their guns instead of less deadly weapons.
“It’s a great privilege for us to work with someone as funny and deeply thoughtful as Kamau,” said Adam Sachs, CEO of Earwolf parent company Midroll Media. “When he shared the Coptalk recording with us I knew we had to help bring it to a wider audience. There is no one conversation that will provide resolution on this topic, but I do think Kamau’s Coptalk helps to open discussions towards a better understanding of each other’s experiences.”