Recently, I was invited by The Modesto Bee to participate in a screening and panel discussion of the new ABC series “American Crime.”
During our panel discussion, and since the show’s debut, people I know and respect have commented in various forums. Many feel the show does not reflect the reality of living here, that this fictional Modesto is not their Modesto.
The same is true for me, personally.
I’m not personally exposed to drug use, racism, homelessness or violence. My work, and some of the volunteer work I do, however, regularly puts me in front of people who face some or all of these challenges on a regular basis. It is this work, in addition to watching the pilot episode of “American Crime,” that reminds me that the Modesto I live in and love is not the same for all of my neighbors.
My hope was that the series would spark a dialogue about the many serious themes woven throughout the story.
We have already gotten a glimpse of one of the protagonists’ distaste for “illegals.” We know some of the characters are addicts and others are drug dealers. There are references to sexual and domestic violence. And the raw grief endured by families who have lost a child is front and center of the plot.
In upcoming episodes, producers hint at larger-scale conflicts between law enforcement and communities of color as well as between the “haves” and “have-nots.”
These are heavy topics, but they reflect real situations in communities and families across the country. In the last few months, we’ve watched numerous incidents of long-held and deep conflict between law enforcement and communities of color come to the surface. We read of the many consequences of substance abuse and mental illness every day. These larger challenges beg for discussion and solutions. Seeing them presented in a fictional series set in Modesto allows us the opportunity to look at them as they apply to our own community.
There is no way to ignore the disparities between neighborhoods within the city limits of Modesto. Families living in the Airport District do not enjoy the same amenities as those living in more affluent neighborhoods.
People seeking substance-abuse treatment or mental health services will find them in very short supply, particularly if they have low to moderate incomes. Women residing in Haven’s domestic violence shelter have virtually no housing options when they leave our program, a factor that causes many to return to the abusive relationship they tried so desperately to flee. We can’t seem to find a way out of the challenges posed by homelessness.
These complex problems are not unique to Modesto, but they are realities for many of our residents.
Rather than generating discussion and the desire to solve some of the issues, the buzz seems to be about how poorly Modesto is portrayed in the show. My take was that the city and the setting are incidental and the events that take place could happen anywhere. I believe the real question is, what are we going to do about it?
I applaud those working to make Modesto a better, more inclusive, welcoming place to live and raise a family. I count myself among you. It’s important to remember, however, that recognizing our strengths does not absolve us of our responsibility to address our shortcomings. I hope we can find the political will and the collective desire to make the Modesto some of us experience equal for everyone.
Rolicheck is the executive director of Haven Women’s Center of Stanislaus, which offers services to victims of domestic abuse.