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NBC Apologizes For 'Law & Order' Episode That Offended Some Puerto Ricans

By LYNN ELBER, AP Television Writer

January 25, 2001
Copyright © 2001 ASSOCIATED PRESS. All Rights Reserved.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A ``Law & Order'' episode about violence during New York's Puerto Rican Day parade provoked angry complaints from Hispanic groups and a promise from NBC never to air the hour again.

``We sincerely apologize for offending members of the Latino community regarding the portrayal of Latinos and the Puerto Rican Day parade ... we have agreed not to repeat the episode on NBC,'' the network said Thursday.

The episode that aired Wednesday depicted a parade day rampage by Puerto Rican youths in which women are molested and one is killed. A Brazilian youth is shown convicted in the death.

NBC made the decision after a meeting in New York with Hispanic representatives, including Manuel Mirabal, head of the National Puerto Rican Coalition, and Maria Roman, parade president.

Mirabal said he was pleased with the decision and apology but that more would be expected.

``We're no longer going to allow the networks to shrug off their responsibility to ensure this doesn't happen again,'' he said.

In a statement, NBC said that ``we realize we still have further improvements to make'' and will do so.

The network's action was swiftly criticized by Dick Wolf, executive producer of the long-running legal drama.

``The bedrock of American democracy is free speech and lack of censorship,'' Wolf said. ``The network has caved in to the demands of a special interest group and I am extremely disappointed with this decision, about which I was not consulted, as I think it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.''

Mirabal said the drama distorted a real occurrence on parade day last year in which groups of men sexually assaulted women in Central Park.

The attacks occurred after, not during, the parade and the majority of those arrested were not Latino, Mirabal said.

``Every Puerto Rican shown in that show was portrayed negatively as a criminal, as a delinquent, as someone who abuses women,'' he said in a telephone interview from New York.

Such depictions reflect negatively on all Hispanics because many viewers fail to distinguish between different groups, he said.

Wolf said in its 11 years of ``ripped from the headlines'' stories his series has offended many ethnic and political groups.

``The show reflects real life,'' he said.

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