The last episode before the winter break of ABC’s Station 19 left viewers shocked over a fight between the firefighters and cops who arrived on the scene of a burning house. Inside the house were two kidnapped black girls who set the fire so that they would be rescued. Outside the house, racist white cops arrested two black firefighters and let the others go. This created a traumatic event for the firehouse.
The backstory is that firefighters from Station 19 were off-duty and out of uniform at a party nearby. They heard a black woman screaming and demanding to be let inside a house, convinced that two girls were inside. The white homeowner called the police to arrest her for trespassing and the police wouldn’t help her when they arrived. But firefighters Dean Miller (Okieriete Onaodowan) and Robert Sullivan (Boris Kodjoe) jumped in, especially once a fire was detected, and rescued the girls. The police believed the white man’s accusations that the girls broke into the house and committed arson and arrested the black mother when she got angry, leading to a confrontation with the firefighters who knew the girls were kidnap victims.
In the episode titled “Train in Vain” which aired on March 11, the firefighters are left to deal with their feelings of anger and frustration. It begins with the release of Dean and Robert from jail and the reunion of the fire squad.
Throughout the episode, the firefighters talk to each other about what happened. The black firefighters are angry and the white firefighters are at a loss to help their friends. Ben Warren (Jason George) gives some advice to Jack Gibson (Grey Damon) on how to help his friend Dean.
Ben: Maya must be crawling out of her skin.
Jack: Yeah, this is a lot.
Jack: And I don’t know how to help Dean. He’s my best friend, and I’ve been avoiding him because I know I’m not who he wants to talk to today, and I-I want to help, you know? I want to say I’m sorry. I want to throw back some beers with him and get him to laugh it off.
Ben: Nope. No.
Jack: I know. I’m just saying –
Ben: No, no, you don’t know. Alright? Y-you don’t know this particular pain. You don’t — You don’t know this ache. You don’t get it.
Jack: We work with cops on every call.
Jack: There’s a lot of good cops out there.
Ben: Yeah, definitely do not say that to him, because yesterday, you saw how some of those “Good cops” treat Black men when they don’t have firefighter uniforms on. You had to see that. Y-you had to see the difference.
Jack: So, how do I help him?
Ben: Give him room. Don’t ask him to talk about his feelings, a-and don’t make him listen to yours. A-and don’t — don’t try to make him laugh. Y-you survived this long by finding humor in the hardships, but you’ll know when he gets there. A-and don’t you try to get him there. If you try to get him there, that’s just dismissing his reality and d-disrespecting his experience. This is a big deal. Let him have his feelings, stop avoiding him, and just have his back like a friend. Just D— don’t make it about you.
Ben paints a picture that there are no “good cops,” especially no good white cops, only bad ones who succumb to treating black people badly. This kind of dialogue only validates a prejudice against law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line every day.
At the end of the episode, Dean decides to take his anger and turn it into action. He is from a wealthy family and plans to mend his relationship with them. His hope is that they will help him launch legal action against the arresting officers.
Travis: The world has changed. Being a doctor is dangerous now. Being a grocery store clerk — super dangerous. A-a-and firefighters? We show up. We show up and try to make the world safe for everyone and each other.
Dean: I’m ready to talk about it. I’m… Gonna go after them.
Dean: I’m gonna go after them through the damn courts. It’s risky, I know, but there is no other option. Three Black girls were already missing from Joyce’s neighborhood. The cops did nothing. They arrested her in front of her daughter on false charges and only dropped those charges because somebody filmed it, and that is not enough. That’s not enough! That girl is permanently traumatized. That mother is permanently traumatized. And if we — if we only chalk it up to a systemic problem without action, if we don’t name the individuals who support this system, if — if we don’t fight them, then nothing changes. Nothing changes. We fight fires. We run into burning buildings, we defy the odds, and we save lives, and this is no different. It’s… It’s just a different kind of fire I am a proud Black firefighter. I am a man that will fight for his little girl’s future, and my family’s got money.
Travis: You made up with your family?
Dean: No. But… But now I will.
Travis: Well, I’m in. I’ll testify. Whatever you need, Miller.
Dean: Thank you, Montgomery.
Vic: Painfully earnest is a good look on you.
One of the worst parts of this story is the pitting of the police officers against the firefighters. Traditionally, the two work together and have each other’s backs. To put a wedge in that relationship to promote a narrative that all white law enforcement officers are racists is just wrong.
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