VICE: “Protect and Serve”/”Coming to America”


Series Overview: Due to the construct of this second episode of the third season HBOWatch can deduce the following facts. Though the “Killing Cancer” special and the “Our Rising Oceans” premiere had longer runtimes the rest of the episodes seem to still adhere to the format of two segments by two different correspondents all within thirty minutes. We also note that this season titles revert back to the format from Season One. Instead of just naming installments “Episode One”, etc. each episode is given the title of the two segments contained therein. Shane Smith still introduces each segment from the VICE Brooklyn offices.       

Overview: In this twenty-fourth episodes of VICE we look at the policing of America and how others struggle to get here. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. last summer sparked a series of protests, which quickly spread throughout the country. As the situation came to light, so did a fierce debate about the increasing militarization of the U.S. police force. Thomas Morton goes to Ferguson at the height of the protests to get an in-depth look at the situation on the ground. He then VICE_USPolice-300x173goes to Urban Shield in Oakland, Cal. and talks to expert Radley Balko to learn how U.S. SWAT teams and police are being trained and how they are getting military-grade equipment to police their communities. Over the last two years, there has been an influx of thousands of Central Americans immigrating to the United States, many of whom are fleeing rampant gang violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. Suroosh Alvi visits El Salvador to see the conditions that are motivating this mass migration north, and then travels from El Salvador through Mexico to see the perilous journey on top of a network of trains, called “The Beast,” that many of these immigrants must take to get to the United States.

Expectations: “To Serve and Protect” – We knew early on that a piece from Ferguson, Missouri was forthcoming. At that time we had no idea which correspondent had the report or when within the situations long timeline the report is filed. But looking at the trailer for this week’s episode we can see that our man Thomas Morton was in the thick of it. Most of the clip seems to show possibly training footage but, there are some quick moments of militarized action of the streets that must be Ferguson. We have been looking forward to this piece and I’m kind of glad it is Thomas Morton taking the case. Oh, I think him holding an assault rifle appears kind of awkward. What do you think?

“Coming to America” is the second segment and looks at the desperate journey many from Central America take to make it across our southern border. Now I’m sure this piece does not even touch upon the immigration issue from America’s standpoint, but more, as the clip indicates, from the perspective of the fleeing innocents from their war-torn countries. Riding “the Beast” looks a bit harrowing, but with his tenacity Suroosh Alvi seems the right one to take the ride.
Here is the trailer:

Gut Reaction: “To Serve and Protect” by correspondent Thomas Morton. Bam! Mr. Morton is indeed is in the thick of it with tear gas canisters being lobbed in his general direction without warning on the streets of Ferguson. I remember this moment from the Season’s trailer. But young Thomas in that locale is not the crux of the story. It can’t be really. With the nightly news and 24-hour stations reporting every breaking moment from that Missouri town and report VICE would offer would be old new by the time we saw it. reported on it often over the last year as well. So to make this story a bit fresher it focuses on the bigger picture which is the militarization of police force not only in Ferguson but around the country.

I feel I concur with the notion that the training and use of surplus military equipment is empowering police forces with the false mentality that an aggressive war must be waged to any that oppose them. I realize there are criminal elements that must be dealt with, but this is blown well out of proportion and is that way across the country.

The convention setting and the training scenarios both illustrate just how overblown the whole attitude has become. I seen a lot of gruesome & disturbing footage in my time of covering documentaries for HBOWatch and partaking of VICE Media content, but it rattled me seeing police ram into a home with an assault rifle waving and testosterone raging as they target a innocent youngster. There have got to be better methods. I thought it an interesting note that Morton made when after seeing all the training scenarios that not one offered a non-violent approach. In the end this segment did not paint police in a very good light, but they are out there believing that they are doing the right thing; they are out there to protect & serve. But, just who are they protecting and serving?

“Coming to America” by Vice co-founder Suroosh Alvi. I always thought Alvi was rather level-headed and cool. Then came Vikram Gandhi and the debate was on one which one was more calm and focused. Now we witness Suroosh cussing up a storm as he gets wacked in the head by branches as he rides “The Beast” northward. Oops, you are slipping there man. The military-like enforcers in El Salvador are having a tough go protecting & serving the citizenry there  so hundreds of people do they only thing they feel they can do and that is to flee north to America.  

I wonder how many months it took to Alvi to complete this segment as he saw Saundra and her family take the journey from beginning to end. He stated that the train ride over 1400 miles took two months alone. Add the time it took Saundra to get into the U. S. and for Suroosh to find her for his follow-up and you learn he clocked some serious time on this story. He was VICE_ComingToAmerica-300x203quite fortunate to get a report from a woman who successfully made a mad dash to our borders via “The Beast.”

At the conclusion of this segment I had to ask myself if whether the piece helped viewers understand the Immigration issue a bit better. This piece does put into perspective how desperate people are to get out of dangerous Central American countries and risk the sojourn to our soil. Though Saundra is being monitored by our system she is at least out of danger from the violence she fled. Magnify her story by the number of people whisked away on the train and the number of people we have heard in the news showing up in our country and the bigger story seems daunting both in getting here and staying here.


In Conclusion: I have mixed feelings about VICE tackling stories in the U.S. or ones that directly affect the country. When a story is filed from a foreign land you can always say that there is nothing you can do about that poor situation, but when the story comes from right out your backdoor you feel its impact more intensely and wonder if there is anything you can do. This installment showcased the violence in our very streets and the influx of immigrants to and through our southern border. They are not easy issues to work with or to solve.

The militarization of our police forces do not seem the best tactics for each and every situation and empathy for those in plight on the immigration front cannot cloud or judgment on what is the best way to handle the issue. VICE was there to shed a bit more light on those hot topics as both issues raise questions to this day. News from the troubles in Ferguson still comes in steadily and Capitol Hill still debates immigration. Where do you stand on these issues? Did VICE enlighten you on the matters at hand? Let’s Debrief: 


I guess Thomas Morton is the only one with a debriefing. I told you Suroosh Alvi was cool; he doesn’t need one. I thought the first few questions were kind of lame, but Morton had good answers for them. It help solidify the notion that the military mentality, including camouflage, is too hard to resist; after all they need to protect themselves. Show #24 debuted on FRIDAY, MARCH 13 at 11:00pm and can be found across the HBO channels and on HBOGo.


Next Week: On March 20 Episode # 03 shows us American militias in action and how we are fishing our oceans to death. It is an all new episode of VICE with all new correspondents it seems.  Here is a preview. Peace.  

Find Episode # 23 here.


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