Warning: This post contains spoilers for Law & Order: SVU‘s Season 22 premiere.
Law & Order: SVU had to end Season 21 prematurely last spring, but the procedural certainly made up for lost time in Thursday’s Season 22 premiere.
COVID-19. Protests against police brutality. Racism in Central Park’s Ramble — all of it came to play during the hour, which followed Olivia Benson and her squad as they investigated a rape in the same area of Central Park where Amy Cooper, a white woman, notoriously called the New York City Police on innocent birder Christian Cooper, a Black man, in June.
In Wednesday’s fictional version, a white woman calls the police, telling them that a Black man exercising near them in the park is “scaring my son.” (She even insists, “I’m not one of those Karens,” which, [SureJan.gif].) Then the boy starts poking around in the trees and reports that there’s a man there, and he’s hurt. When the uniformed officers arrive, they get into a physical struggle with the exerciser, handcuffing him. SVU shows up next, because the man in the bushes — Eric Aquino — was raped and is in bad shape, and is unable to identify anyone as his attacker.
As a crowd grows, everyone holding their cameras to capture the action, Liv and Fin feel the pressure to keep things moving. Given that the exerciser, named Jayvon, has two outstanding warrants and isn’t being cooperative, they make the call to arrest him and bring him down to the station.
But the thing is, Jayvon’s warrants were for protesting. He’s got no violent offenses, and he’s rightly angry that the police assumed he was involved in the rape — they were only in the park because of the racist woman’s frantic (and false) call. After they suss out that Jayvon is innocent, he sues the department and specifically names Fin and Olivia. Deputy Chief Garland warns Fin that with the current anti-police sentiment, there’s a “purge” coming, and no one is safe: “Not me, not you, not Captain Benson.”
Olivia speaks with Internal Affairs to give her statement about what happened. When her interviewer, a Black officer, points out that Liv never thought to run the white woman’s priors, Liv is chagrined to learn that the woman has a history of making false reports and also has a restraining order against her. She adds that Olivia and Amaro had encountered Jayvon before, during a stop-and-frisk when they were looking for a serial rapist years ago. A visibly upset Olivia, whose implicit biases are being laid bare before her, listens as the interviewer tells her there are two kinds of white cops: gladiators, who are racist and can barely contain their anger at her, and guardians, who think of themselves as allies but who refuse to do the work on dismantling their own biases. “I’m reeling,” she later tells Garland.
Back at the precinct, Rollins and Kat track down a guy who was yelling “Defund the police!” when Jayvon was arrested but who, it turns out, met Eric at a bar earlier that night and accompanied him to the park. That man is arrested (and also, inCREDibly punchable), but when Fin testifies at the grand jury proceedings, things fall apart when the jurors start drilling him about his involvement in the shooting from the end of last season. It goes so badly that Fin, Rollins and Carisi get into a shouting match outside the courtroom, and Fin basically calls Carisi a racist from Staten Island. It’s only interrupted when Punchable Face’s lawyer arrives to tell them that his client is going to testify before the grand jury.
PF testifies that he had consensual oral sex in the park with Eric, but says he went home before anything bad happened to Eric. What’s more, PF tearfully tells the jury that he, Eric and Jayvon are victims, because “The cops are lying to you. I’m not.” The grand jury votes not to move ahead with the case: Punchable Face goes free.
Eric’s family is incensed when they hear the news. “If you hadn’t arrested Jayvon Brown, none of this would have happened, would it?,” his brother yells at Kat and Rollins. And even at home, Olivia finds Noah watching the video of Jayvon’s arrest. “Are you a racist?” he asks her, wondering if she’s told Jayvon that she’s sorry.
The next morning, Liv goes to the park to tell Jayvon that they’ve brought charges against the woman who called the cops on him. But he’s lost his job, and he’s angry that PF walked. “The NYPD has, I have a lot of work to do,” she tells him. “Yeah,” he says before jogging away, “you do.”
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the premiere? Grade the episode via the poll below, then hit the comments with your thoughts.