A homeless Black man is standing outside of a liquor store when two police officers accost him, search through his belongings and inform him that him standing outside of the liquor store is disturbing the peace. A Black man walks out of the liquor store and informs the police this man is loved by the neighborhood, and slowly a crowd forms around the commotion. As the homeless man slowly stands up with no weapon in sight, both officers draw guns on him. The Black man who walked out of the liquor store picks up his phone to record the encounter, implores the group around him to do the same, and says the one phrase that eventually forces the police to relent: “Y’all want to be famous?”
That Black man was Trig Taylor (Luke James), whose brother Jake (Mike Epps) was assaulted by the police in The Chi’s season 4 premiere. That one encounter encapsulates a scintillating episode centered around how perception is oftentimes Black people’s best defense against oppression.
Perception is one of the greatest equalizers marginalized groups have to effect change. Jake’s friend Papa (Shamon Brown) turns his girlfriend Maisha (Genesis Denise Hale)’s closet into a recording studio in order to start a podcast aimed at shedding light on the injustices in his city as a result of his best friend being brutalized by the police. Remember, it was also Maisha’s reflexive filming of Jake’s encounter with police brutality that spurred social unrest that ultimately led to Mayor Otis Perry (Curtiss Cook) not only firing the officer who assaulted Jake but also defunding the entire Chicago Police Department.
Maisha and Papa’s social activism at such a young age falls in line with the shift in political engagement for Generation Z. According to a Pew Research Center study, two-thirds of the Gen Z generation understand Black people are treated less fairly than white people. Only half of the Baby Boomer generation feels the same way.
This episode comes a year after defunding the police became a national rallying cry following the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. Similar to in The Chi, a video of Floyd being brutalized by police was recorded by a young Black girl, 17-year-old Darnella Frazier, forced the nation to reckon with the prospect of defunding the police in order to protect its citizens. While Chicago’s mayor Lori Lightfoot has reduced the push to defund the police to “a nice hashtag,” the perception of the police has enacted change. Kansas City mayor Quinton Lucas, a Black man, recently passed an ordinance to defund the Kansas City Police Department’s budget by $42.3 million. New York City and even Chicago mayors have both proposed cutting police budgets as a form of defunding without fully defunding the departments.
This episode of The Chi makes sure to hint at the cultural proclivities young Black men are indoctrinated with to contextualize how young Black people know how to move through a world that doesn’t always treat them fairly. In a touching moment between brothers, Trig tells Jake he doesn’t have to mask his pain from the world all the time by being tough, especially after having a police encounter that would traumatize most. When Trig tells him he doesn’t need to be strong all the time, Jake’s face hardens with discontent, and he responds, “Yes, we do.” Jake saying “we” instead of “I” in response to a statement solely about his circumstance was a brilliant way of The Chi writers to help drive home the idea that understanding how the world perceives you is a collective burden among Black people; one they can only accept and use to their advantage.
The catch-22 of perpetually projecting strength to the world to survive is that some projection will alter the outside world’s perception of Black people to insidious results. A 2017 psychological study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that non-Black people perceived young Black men as taller, heavier, and more muscular than young white men of the same size. The results of the study also implied that non-Black people believed police would be justified in using force against young Black men than young white men of the same size. With this in mind, The Chi having Jake change from prep school clothes to urban clothing before being accosted by police in the season premiere was a salient example of a cop seeing a threat when he should’ve seen a child.
If the first two episodes are any indication, this season of The Chi will be a season-long commentary on how the way Black people are seen is the way Black people can survive.
Relive the episode in the gallery below.