Grey’s Anatomy, a TV show with a reputation for addressing real-life social issues, seemed like it had exhausted its confrontation of these issues after its mid-season premiere last week, which included a domestic violence storyline and changed the portrayal of transgender characters. But the show kept tackling the issues and just took on police brutality and unconscious bias — both in a devastatingly real way.
The American TV show, now in its fourteenth season, aired its episode titled “Personal Jesus” on Thursday, Jan. 25. In the episode, a 12-year-old black boy, Eric, is rushed into the hospital with a gunshot wound to the neck. It is revealed that the wound was inflicted by a police officer, and another officer tries to handcuff the boy, only to be denied by one of the doctors, Jackson Avery, who is also black.
It turned out that the boy was shot while sneaking into his house, which was in an upper-class neighborhood, after realizing he forgot his keys. The police assumed he was a black kid in a wealthy neighborhood who had a gun and shot him. Unfortunately, the shot ended up being fatal.
The incident reminds Jackson Avery of the time when he was targeted by police in his own upper-class neighborhood, simply because he was a black kid walking down the street. After Eric’s death, Jackson tells the policemen who tried to handcuff him, “Bias is human. You’re using guns, and your bias is lethal. Adjust your protocol. Fix it. Kids are dying. This kid is dead — for what?”
The storyline eventually leads to another doctor, Miranda Bailey, teaching her black 13-year-old son how to act around the police. She instructs her son to never talk back to police officers, climb through windows, or throw rocks, even if his white friends are. She explains that this is all because she wants him to come home safely. The scene ends with Bailey’s son repeating “I am William George Bailey Johnson. I am 13-years-old, and I have nothing to harm you” to his parents, a reminder to those who have the luxury to forget that police brutality is very real.
According to the episode writer, Zoanne Clack, the character Eric was named after Eric Garner. The episode was also very important to Clack, who told The Hollywood Reporter that to talk about unconscious bias in such a blatant and straightforward way was an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up. She was especially inspired by her own experience raising her black son.
“It became very clear to me as I’m raising my 4-year-old black son that he will have different experiences in life, no matter how much I’m in an upper-socioeconomic part of society. No matter what school he’s in or who his friends are, he’s still going to be seen as a black boy and black man, and that will alter his experience from other social groups,” Clack told The Hollywood Reporter.