- HBO Watchmen’s sixth episode features the character Lieutenant Battle.
- Battle was a real-life NYPD officer and the first black American to join the force.
- He faced similar discrimination as Will Reeves in Watchmen.
The sixth episode of HBO’s Watchmen recalls the person of Samuel Jesse Battle. Born in 1883, Battle would become the first black American appointed to the New York Police Department when he was sworn in on June 28, 1911.
In the episode, Battle himself swears in Will Reeves (who, as we see, eventually becomes Hooded Justice), after Reeves’ graduation from the police academy. Reeves, who finds himself the target of racial violence later in the episode, tells Battle he joined because of him. Then, Battle tells him to “beware the cyclops,” a city-wide KKK conspiracy using video projectors and the concept of mesmerism to brainwash black Americans into killing each other. Yeah, that didn’t happen. But the sentiment was real.
In Watchmen, Battle towers over Reaves and the other officers. And that did probably happen. Battle was the largest baby recorded in North Carolina at the time—a whopping 16 pounds. By the time he was sworn into the force in 1911, Battle was 6’3” and 285 pounds.
His size, however, couldn’t ward off mistreatment, and Battle faced threats and discrimination. He was given the silent treatment by fellow officers. He even received a note which included a racial slur and a hole the size of a bullet. In 1919, however, Battle raced through a riot in Harlem to rescue a white officer. His collogues then unanimously voted to admit Battle into the prep course for the sergeant’s exam. He became sergeant in 1926 and then lieutenant in 1935—three years before the events of the Watchmen episode.
At the time, New York’s population was 2 percent black, and while there were a handful of black patrol officers in Brooklyn, the Police Department hadn’t yet merged with the outer boroughs. A hundred years later, the city would be 18 percent back and its police force would include 48 percent persons of color.
Battle later said the reason he joined the department was that “it would be a permanent place in which I could support my wife and family without worry.”
Battle died in 1966, at the age of 83.