Thoughts on The Wire Season One

(From January 7)

Over the break Kathleen and I watched a bunch of movies, but season 1 of The Wire delivered beyond the hype it got from friends. It gives a crash course on the frustration and futility of local cops fighting drug gangs on the street level in West Baltimore. The police jump through major hoops to get an idea of the shape of the organization, and use civilians who risk their lives informing on the gangs, but there’s zero day to day effort made to actually keep drugs out of the hands of people.

The police would do more good just walking up and slapping drugs out of the hands of dealers directly all day. What you have instead is the slow methodical building of cases designed to put away upper level gang members. This takes a lot of time, and in the meantime people suffer from addiction and the added pressure applied to the gangs results in increased violence. In the end a few people designated to take the fall (or with the least information to barter with) get sent away, and the addicts remain potential customers, ensuring the business continues to attract new members.The officers have good intentions–they’re after justice for local murders–but what they fail to realize is that they’re spinning wheels. Gang members put away today will be replaced tomorrow, and these new recruits will kill, abuse, and take advantage of people as well as the last.

It’s no wonder that children growing up in this environment–with absent, addicted, incarcerated, or dead parents–find the drug gangs to be the only source of social structure and promotion in their lives. They can wait until they’re 15 to make min. wage (if they’re lucky enough to find work), or make more today without leaving the neighborhood or wearing a crappy uniform and while gaining the “respect” of older peers they work beneath (at least until they’re deemed a liability).

(Thoughts from October…) It’s clear the writers were trying to outline the futility of the “Drug War”, but mostly they just demonstrated why bust-the-kingpins drug policing is far less effective or humane than many might perceive it to be. Unless you can disrupt a business, jailing a CEO doesn’t really accomplish much. It seems fairer to “go after” the guy-in-charge, but the harm he causes is probably low; he’s just the latest to climb the rank of a business that would exist whether or not he did.

The Wire characters we follow day to day are kind of painted to be better cops than the stat-counters (who just clock in, bust some low-level dealers, and go home), but this isn’t necessarily true. Really none of the policing shown is very effective compared to methods that are out there, but the high stats busters at least keep more drugs away from addicts and provide more visibility of police officers, which is far better for a community than visible drug markets.

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