Colors is a 1988 police drama directed by Robert Duvall, starring Duvall and a Sean Penn. It tells the story of two Los Angeles police officers working to stop the violence between rival street gangs ‘The Bloods” and “The Crips.”
In the film, Duvall’s character Bob Hodges is an experienced 19 year LAPD vet who is well-respected and appreciated amongst gang members for his tactful and diplomatic approach to dealing with street life. Hodges is newly partnered with rookie Danny “PacMan” Mcgavin (Sean Penn). Unlike Hodges, PacMan is aggressive and arrogant. (Spoiler Alert) PacMan’s cavalier attitude leads to the untimely death of officer Hodges.
Watching this film for the first time made me incredibly angry. I was reminded of March 26, 2013 when I, a young Black woman, was falsely arrested by the NYPD. After being in a near-fatal car accident caused by an intoxicated White driver, I was placed under arrest for having a suspended license–something that would have been valid if my license was actually suspended. I was handcuffed to a hospital bed for 4 hours at one of the worst hospitals in the Bronx, then taken to the police precinct where I was held for another 4 hours (while the White driver went home without any repercussions). What I remember most about this night was the conversation I had (while handcuffed to the bed) with my arresting officers.
I started talking about the millions of dollars the city is spending to illegally arrest Black and brown people for marijuana, the Good Sam laws, medical marijuana in New York, and of course Stop and Frisk. Upon my mentioning of Stop and Frisk, the younger of the two officers, a White male in his mid 20’s replied, “we need Stop and Frisk, these communities don’t know what is best for them…we do.”
The officer continued, stating that he is tough when policing in high crime communities. He tells me this is necessary to “keep everyone in line.” Unlike Hodges, this young officer believed being feared and respected helped end crime. When I asked how he could tell a criminal apart from other members of the community, he had no reply other than, “you just can.” I did not have a name for it then, but after watching Colors I do now, this young officer was practicing the Pac-man Approach to policing.
This movie, like most police procedural films, will have you believe there is always one good cop and one bad cop, and eventually the bad turns good (unless he is killed). But this movie paints a fictitious picture; there are more PacMans than Hodges in reality. This film portrayed an image of cops desperately trying to work with gangs to help end violence, but that is very seldom the case.
By Alexis R. Posey
M.S. Candidate in Urban Policy Analysis and Management, 2014