Grey's Anatomy Addresses Police Brutality and Racial Injustice in Heartbreaking Episode

Christina Dugan
·6 min read

ABC Winston and Maggie

This post contains spoilers from Thursday's episode of Grey's Anatomy.

Grey's Anatomy continues to address social issues in powerful ways.

During Thursday's episode of the ABC medical drama, the doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial worked to save the lives of patients injured during a peaceful protest in support of Black Lives Matter while one of their own experienced racial profiling at the hands of law enforcement.

"We were marching peacefully," Richard Webber told Jackson Avery (Jesse Williams) as they tended to an elderly protester who was injured by a tear gas canister administered by police. "She was marching peacefully. Can you imagine firing poison gas at this woman? Still marching at her age."

"What was it out there?" Jackson asked.

"It was beautiful," said Richard. "First, it was frightening and it was messy but it was still beautiful. There were young people handing out water and masks. It was organized. There was a feeling in the air. You have to put yourself on the line to be part of it. But good trouble lights you up."

ABC Chandra Wilson

Meanwhile, Maggie Pierce's new fiancé Dr. Winston Ndugu (Anthony Hill) was on his way to officially move to Seattle — but his road trip was interrupted after suddenly being stopped by police.

"Music off, hat off, hands on the wheel," a visibly nervous Winston said as the police officer approached his car. While Maggie (Kelly McCreary) was on speakerphone with her future husband, Winston asked the officer, "Can you tell me you why you pulled me over?"

"Winston are you there? I can't hear anything," Maggie said as she listened to Winston's interaction with the officer.

"I'm going to need to turn off your phone, sir," the officer said.

"It's just my fiancé," Winston said.

"Are you failing to comply?" the officer responded.

As Winston hung up the phone, Maggie began to panic and questioned her fiancé's safety.

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Later in the episode, Winston called Maggie to inform her that he was safe, but was overwhelmed and shaken up by his experience.

"They had me get out of the car and take my mask off," he told her. "They had me do a DUI test. And they checked the trunk. They checked the car. They unpacked all my stuff. The police dog sniffed it over. The dog sniffed me. They let me go. I'm good. That's why it took so long."

"Why?" Maggie asked. "Were you swerving on the road?"

"No, my bike rack was obscuring my license plate and then they saw me," he said. "It turned into one of those things, I guess. Maggie, I'm a little bit shaken up right now. I don't know if I'm good to drive yet. I'm not good. I'm not okay yet. I've just got to breathe."

ABC Winston and Maggie

At the end of the episode, and as Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) continued her long battle with COVID-19, Richard reflected on the emotionally exhausting series of events.

"Now every day I take a new oath," he said in a voiceover. "I pledge to help build a world worth living in. And never stop believing that world can exist. Not today. So far from today. But someday."

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This isn't the first time Grey's Anatomy has addressed social issues.

In a December episode, which continued to follow the doctors of Grey Sloan Memorial as they navigate life in the COVID-19 pandemic, Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) named a handful of patients' names who have been impacted by the virus in some way or another — specifically shedding light on those patients of color. When the scene wrapped, viewers watched as hundreds of names were listed on the screen.

The episode touched on another social issue during a heartfelt conversation between Jackson Avery and Webber.

"Do you realize half of our COVID patients are Black and brown?" Jackson asked. "They say that 7 percent Black, how does that even compute? If I hear one more person blame it on pre-existing conditions if the conditions aren't man-made to begin with. Like we're not pushing at the front line of all of our jobs for us to live in over-crowded situations surrounded by environmental hazards. With systemic racism as the root for the whole damn thing. Forget the 'pre." It's the existing condition. Existing while Black."

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Jessica Brooks/getty images

In a July interview with the Television Academy, executive producer Krista Vernoff revealed that the medical drama was going to tackle the global coronavirus crisis in season 17.

"We're going to address this pandemic for sure," she said. "There's no way to be a long-running medical show and not do the medical story of our lifetimes."

During the "Quaranstreaming: Comfort TV That Keeps Us Going" panel, which Vernoff attended along with Grey's stars Wilson and Kevin McKidd (Dr. Owen Hunt), she explained that the show's writers had already been in meetings with real-life doctors about the pandemic.

"Every year, we have doctors come and tell us their stories, and usually they're telling their funniest or craziest stories," Vernoff explained of the show's writing process.

"It has felt more like therapy," she added. "The doctors come in and we're the first people they're talking to about these types of experiences they're having. They are literally shaking and trying not to cry, they're pale, and they're talking about it as war — a war that they were not trained for."

Grey's Anatomy airs Thursdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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