Law and Order star’s real-life inspiration behind Shaw battle

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The 22nd season of the mainline Law and Order series is now taking a well-earned holiday hiatus, as well as its equally popular spin-offs Special Victims Unit and Organized Crime. However, this week’s riveting midseason finale, The System, left viewers with several hard-hitting questions to ponder after Jalen Shaw (played by Mehcad Brooks) faced one of his biggest challenges with the team yet.

New series regular Mehcad has opened up about depicting Jalen’s personal struggles in the latest episode of Law and Order.

In the fall finale, Jalen is deeply conflicted when he contends with a false confession from an innocent Black man.

As a former lawyer turned detective, the newcomer joined up with the NYPD to fight the system from the inside, but his plan has proven to be an insurmountable task.

“Shaw went into law and became a homicide detective not only to put away bad guys but to make sure that innocent Black men didn’t end up in prison on his watch,” Mehcad explained.

“He wanted to fight this system, and he realises that he’s become a guardian of that system, rather than this disrupter.

“And so there’s a spiritual battle that he has, perhaps, of letting down the people who look like him.”

This week’s Law and Order case features a young man awaiting sentence on Rikers Island, which has become notorious for the brutality prisoners experience within its walls.

As with many episodes of the iconic primetime drama, this case is inspired by many similar real-life examples.

Mehcad revealed he was inspired by the likes of Kalief Browder, a 16-year-old who was held at Rikers for three years because he couldn’t afford to pay $3,000 in bail.

He told TVLine: “My mind went to him. My mind went to thousands of others who’ve been put in that position.

“Law & Order [is] an institution that is able to infiltrate the living rooms of a multitude of diverse Americans.

“I think that we’re able to at least shed light on conversations that need to be had, and this is a conversation that needs to be had: that the system exists and that we have to start looking at people’s lived experiences as true.”

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By starring in the series, Mehcad hopes to inspire real police officers and those just starting a career in law enforcement to conduct themselves the best they can whilst on the job.

As opposed to other TV cops, Jalen is never seen manhandling suspects or using excessive force for this very reason.

Mehcad confirmed his own bad experiences with the police helped shape his character’s motivations and the careful way he’s depicted in the series.

“I have been the subject of police brutality before in my life, so I know how it feels,” he revealed.

“I don’t want to inflict that on a character or glorify that on the show.

“I think that I’m in a very unique position,” he added. “I understand how impactful [it] can be.

“I’m thinking very seriously about where we need to go as a country and that relationship between the Black community and over-policing.”

Mehcad has only just joined the series for its 22nd season this year, but his performance as Jalen has already had a huge impact on how policing is represented in Law and Order and the franchise as a whole.

Law and Order season 22 continues in 2023 on NBC in the USA. A UK release date is yet to be announced.

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