Case #3.02: "Slippin' Into Darkness"

Downtown, a passing bus tells us we're in a neighborhood called Hastings. A guy on a payphone is clearly planning something illegal, telling the person on the other end that there are no cops around. He tells a homeless man to find another phone and approaches a nearby car.

Booker and Tom are sitting in it. They try to convince Sketchy Guy to sell them a lot of drugs, but Sketchy Guy "doesn't do big things with small people." "We make money, you make money," Booker points out. Sketchy Guy says only Tom can come with him. So far this episode isn't making sense; this seems more like a job for narcotics than Jump Street.

Anyway, Tom gets out of the car. Booker drives down the street to park and wait for him. He goes up to a car where Fuller is sitting and tells him that Tom is with the dealer. Cap'n Rufus tells him to get in.

On the street, Tom follows Sketchy Guy to where he keeps his drug stash. A large group of kids marches down the sidewalk, all dressed in similar clothes and black berets. "Not these guys, let's go!" shouts Sketchy Guy as the kids give chase. He and Tom don't make it far before they're caught. The kids shove them up against a pair of newspaper dispensers. 

One boy acts as spokesman for the group: No drug dealing on their streets; Sketchy Guy and Tom are under citizen's arrest and will be restrained until the police arrive. Booker and the captain watch from their car. Cap'n Rufus says they'll bail Tom out of trouble and protect his cover, then mutters, "Thanks a lot for nothin', guys."

Tom leaves a holding cell and finds Sketchy Guy waiting for him at the front desk. He explains that his brother came to bail him out. They leave the station. Sketchy Guy agrees to let Tom try to move some heavy weight for him. He also threatens to kill the vigilante kids, referring to them as Rangers. Specifically, he wants to go after Steve Muniz, who is presumably the ringleader. 

Cap'n Rufus asks Tom if he thinks the threat against the Rangers was real; Tom does. The Rangers are apparently some kind of sanctioned neighborhood watch brought into Hastings after the local precinct was shut down due to budget cuts; the group headquarters out of a donated storefront. 

Harry agrees with what they're doing; in addition to patrols, they teach CPR classes and escort the elderly around. Judy doesn't like the Rangers. Fuller tells Tom to maintain his cover with Sketchy Guy (Campos). Judy and Harry are to keep tabs on the Rangers.

Judy practices self-defense moves at the Rangers' Headquarters. She's been outfitted with an official Street Rangers T-shirt. It's Harry's turn to spar next; naturally, because he's Asian, he's good at karate. The leader Steve reminds them that they have patrol that night, but only 2 cars. Harry offers the use of his. Steve turns to his middle school-aged brother Raphie and praises him for finally recruiting someone with a car. 

Outside on the street, Steve lectures about the types of neighborhood decline that they're trying to prevent. Judy wants to know how they're supposed to protect themselves. Steve says, "Attitude is your best weapon. And if you carry a weapon on patrol, you're out. The goofs who do the shooting don't know what they're doing, so they miss by a mile. They never get more than one shot off before 3 or 4 of us are on 'em." This jackass is gonna get some kid hurt; it's just a matter of when. 

Judy asks, "Why not just be a cop?" Steve explains that paperwork and courts make cops ineffective. While there's some argument to be made for that, this is still a stupid, dangerous alternative. 

It isn't long before they're accosted by a group of what appear to be pimps or drug dealers. One wants to fix Raphie's hair. He pulls out what looks at first like a knife but turns out to be a switchblade comb. "Y'all are outsiders here," the dealer/pimp says, "And that's where we want you. Out." Steve assures the others it was just talk and barks for them to get back in formation.

Raphie, Judy, and Harry go into a nearby store to grab sodas. Judy's Ranger uniform feels like a target on her back. Raphie, clearly brainwashed by his older brother, parrots, "A weapon is just a false sense of security." A burglar alarm sounds across the street. Raphie takes off running; Harry and Judy follow to save the kid from himself.

Sure enough, Raphie gets punched and knocked to the ground by the robber. Harry steps in to take care of the problem. The robber punches Judy. A nearby store owner appears, armed with a baseball bat. Harry gets the robber on the ground just as a police car pulls up.

The store owner shouts that the man has robbed him 4 times. Every time, it was the Rangers who caught the thief, not the police. "You kids may have just handed this guy a free walk," says the cop. Steve shrugs and says they'll just take care of it again when the robber gets out of jail. 

"Maybe you can take care of yourself, but what about these kids?" the cop asks Steve, "How are you gonna feel when you hafta tell a parent their kid's head was cracked open by a gangbanger?" Steve is convinced that won't happen. "You ready for one of those conversations?" the cop presses, "3:00 in the morning, the parents hysterical. They're no fun, believe me."

The cops ask the store owner if he wants to file charges against the robber. The moronic robbery victim would rather complain about the cops than see anything done that doesn't involve teenagers risking their lives. The Rangers exchange hugs and high-fives.

At a different police station, Cap'n Rufus picks Doug's brain about Campos. Doug remembers him being aggressive, impatient and volatile. Campos would consider killing someone to protect his turf just part of doing business. Tom goes into the back room to collect buy money. Rufus turns to Doug: "I've got a budget to put out on Friday. Am I still keeping your name on my payroll?" Doug likes working for Intelligence, but he still looks conflicted.

Tom meets Campos in front of the 24-hour video store that was robbed earlier in the episode. The drug dealer that hassled the Rangers joins them. The three head around the corner to do business. Raphie and Steve have been watching from inside the store. Raphie thinks they should call a cop. Steve is dismissive: "It's almost dinnertime. You think you can find one?" If there's a restaurant nearby, odds are good. The Rangers leave the video store.

Booker and Cap'n Rufus watch from a car as Tom makes the drug buy. When the parties involved see Raphie and Steve coming, they scatter. The boys chase them. "We should get some help, Steve," Raphie says as they crawl under a partially-open garage-style door. Steve ignores him and they continue to creep through the warehouse.

Steve sneaks up on Campos and grabs him in a bearhug. Booker and Fuller enter the warehouse. A gunshot rings out. Cap'n Rufus shouts, "Police! Who's there? Identify yourself!" He motions for Booker to go clear the room in the opposite direction. Rufus follows the sound of unintelligible words and crying; he finds Steve on the floor. 

Booker comes into the room with Raphie at his elbow. Steve stops talking and breathing. Raphie is horrified and keeps screaming his brother's name. Booker puts a comforting arm around the kid's shoulders.

In what's probably the homicide division squadroom, the assigned detective says they'll question Campos if they can find him. Raphie didn't actually see the shooting, so all they have is motive. Cap'n Rufus thinks their best bet to stop Campos is nailing him on a drug charge. 

At Ranger HQ, an unnamed Ranger gives a speech about loss and police ineffectiveness in front of the rest of the Rangers and some neighborhood residents. "We gotta find the son of a bitch who shot Steve and drop him!" a curly-haired Ranger shouts. Others cheer their agreement. The leader asks Raphie what he wants done. "I only want one thing," says Ralphie, "To see that his dying has some meaning, to do the right thing. To keep the neighborhoods our neighborhoods and to keep what happened to him from ever happening again...The killer of my brother must be found and he must be found by us, not the police." More cheers. In the back of the room, Judy and Harry exchange looks.

The Rangers march down the street in formation; each member now carries a pair of handcuffs. Raphie orders everyone to split into groups of two and start asking questions. There's a montage of the kids accosting passersby and owners of local businesses. Judy has paired herself with Raphie and says maybe people really don't know who killed Steve. Raphie thinks people are lying and Judy can go home if she doesn't like how he's handling things. Judy suggests the Rangers work with the cops. Raphie's reaction is predictable.

When Raphie runs across the street, Judy follows. Raphie almost gets hit by a passing police car. The cops get out and ask if he has a death wish. "I'm sorry about your brother, but you can't be rousting people," says the mustached cop from earlier. The rest of the Rangers arrive. "Just remember where your job ends and our job begins," says the cop.

"You're late," Tom says as Campos joins him at a restaurant. Campos tells him the Rangers have been harassing his clients about where he is. He refuses to sell Tom any more drugs until the problem blows over and leaves the restaurant without ordering anything. 

Once outside, the Rangers spot Campos and chase him into an alley. Campos denies shooting Steve and gets punched in the face by two Rangers for his trouble. A third Ranger joins in. Sirens approach. Raphie picks up a gun that fell out of Campos' pocket. The cops take Campos away.

In an interrogation room, a bruised Campos says he didn't do it. He thinks the Rangers are a threat to the neighborhood and wants them stopped. "Mr. Campos, the police aren't in the business of protecting drug dealers," Fuller informs him. Campos has another problem: the unregistered gun the police found in the alley is the same caliber that killed Steve. They'll run ballistics tests to see if it's the murder weapon. Campos says it's not his gun.

Raphie holds court at Ranger HQ, telling the others, "A lot of people are scared to testify in court, but it's our job."

Tom and Campos meet by the video store. Campos is sure he won't be tied to the murder; his prints aren't on the gun because Raphie touched it and the Rangers assaulted him. He picks up a payphone and waves to a police car parked down the street. "Know how work the system and the system'll work for you," he advises Tom. 

The Rangers make their way toward the payphones, but the police car cuts them off. Sidebar: Aren't these kids ever in school? Keeping a neighborhood safe is a 24-hour gig, but I'm sure their parents would be pissed about a truant officer coming around.

Mustache Cop advises the Rangers that Campos took out a restraining order against them. He shoos the kids back to the other side of the street. The store owner comes out to yell at the police for protecting a drug dealer and not him.

Raphie makes a speech about the police caring more about the drug dealer than a store owner tired of getting robbed. "The message to the dealers must come from us or we let the neighborhood down," says Raphie. They'll hunt down Campos, whatever it takes. "Then we're just a bunch of vigilantes," says Judy. I'm pretty sure Raphie knows that already.

"Are we just bullies? Is that what Steve worked so hard for?" asks Judy. Another Ranger wants to throw Judy and Harry out, but Raphie stops him and admits that Judy's right. He wants to cooperate with the police; anyone who doesn't want to can leave. The others protest loudly at this and get louder when Raphie cancels patrols. He's taking Harry and Judy with him to talk to the police.

Raphie pulls aside his unnamed second-in-command and mutters for him to go on patrol anyway. "Don't do anything 'til I get there," he adds. 

Tom's Mustang pulls up to the phone bank Campos frequents. Tom gets out. Campos has clients meeting him elsewhere and offers Tom $100 to answer the payphone. Tom offers to go with him instead. The potential customers in front of the video store close in on Campos. The one in the fedora sucker-punches Campos in the stomach; the other Rangers throw him and Tom into a van. Fedora says, "Don't do anything until Raphie gets back." 

Cap'n Rufus is worried because he tried to call the payphone several times and Tom isn't answering; he hasn't checked in either. Judy has had a change of heart and doesn't think the Rangers are vigilantes. Neither does Harry. Booker tells them Tom's Mustang got towed from Hastings after sitting on the street all night. Fuller thinks the Rangers know where Campos and Tom are.

At the Muniz house, Harry and Judy talk to Raphie's mother and uncle. The relatives both say Raphie wouldn't hurt anyone. Judy asks if they know where he is. "He's at school," Mrs. Muniz replies. Harry tells her that Raphie never went that morning. The uncle says in a completely unconvincing tone, "We don't know where he is, honest." Then just as casually, he mentions that his gun is missing.

Judy asks the Ranger second-in-command where Raphie is; he doesn't know. Harry flashes his badge and says, "We think you do." The kid admits that the Rangers kidnapped Campos and "that creep he's doing business with" to scare them. Judy informs him that Tom is an undercover cop. "He's planning on scaring them with his uncle's gun," Harry adds. The kid repeats that they don't carry weapons. Harry leans across the desk and grabs him by the shirt, asking where they are.

Tom and Campos are bound and gagged in a warehouse with Rangers standing guard. The same green van they were kidnapped in pulls up. Raphie gets out. "We got a couple more people coming, then we'll get this show on the road," he tells his captives. He takes his uncle's gun out of the back of his pants and says, "Guys, meet your jury."

Cap'n Rufus drives down the road. Judy is upset with herself for getting played by the Rangers. The car phone rings; the ballistics lab has conveniently managed to find the serial number on the gun. 

In the warehouse, Raphie tells Tom and Campos they stand accused of selling drugs. Tom tries to get up and leave, but falls flat on his face. "You're out of order!" shouts Raphie. He turns to Campos. "My brother died because of you, man. Because of your greed." The grandiose speech continues. I'm so sick of this episode, which is surprising considering how much I love The Boondock Saints. Same speeches, same concepts, but much better execution there.

Raphie strips off his jacket and Street Rangers shirt, leaving just the thermal underneath. He puts the gun to Campos' head, cocks the hammer, and announces, "I find you guilty of the murder of our city and the death of my brother." Cap'n Rufus, Judy, and Harry arrive. Judy tells Raphie to put the gun down. 

Judy reveals the truth about what happened to Raphie's brother: "We traced it, Raphie. It was your uncle's gun that killed Steve. You were carrying it on patrol." Raphie more or less blames Steve, telling her how badly Steve wanted Campos off the street. Raphie saw Campos holding a gun on Steve; he tried to shoot the dealer. But he aimed poorly and pulled the trigger too early, killing Steve instead. He starts crying. Tom and the rest of the Rangers are stunned.

The episode ends with Campos getting busted by Booker, Cap'n Rufus, and Tom for dealing drugs.

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