The Writers of The Wire on the Drug War

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The head writers of HBO’s The Wire, which I consider possibly the greatest achievement in television writing, have an excellent and important message in the latest issue of Time:

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right,” wrote Thomas Paine when he called for civil disobedience against monarchy – the flawed national policy of his day. In a similar spirit, we offer a small idea that is, perhaps, no small idea. It will not solve the drug problem, nor will it heal all civic wounds. It does not yet address questions of how the resources spent warring with our poor over drug use might be better spent on treatment or education or job training, or anything else that might begin to restore those places in America where the only economic engine remaining is the illegal drug economy. It doesn’t resolve the myriad complexities that a retreat from war to sanity will require. All it does is open a range of intricate, paradoxical issues. But this is what we can do – and what we will do.

If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will – to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun’s manifesto against the death penalty – no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience. And when the lawyers or the judge or your fellow jurors seek explanation, think for a moment on Bubbles or Bodie or Wallace. And remember that the lives being held in the balance aren’t fictional.

In addition to being the head writers of The Wire, David Simon is the author of Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets; Ed Burns is a twenty-year veteran of the Baltimore City Police; Dennis Lehane is the author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone; George Pelecanos is the author of Hell to Pay and The Night Gardener; Richard Price is the author of Clockers and Freedomland.


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  1. I will be parked in from of the idiot box on Sunday night watching the finale.

    Baltimore reminds me vaguely of Memphis given the local politics and the limited choices some of the characters have.

    Don’t know if you are aware of this but Richard Price has a new book out which I think I will buy, and I have read most of Pelecanos’s stuff. I knew Omar was going down but it still pained ( Omar and Lester are/were my favs) me. Now the question is does McNulty go down and who does he take with him, or do they cover it up because Marlo and his guys were a good get?  

    • pfiore8 on March 6, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    been serious about the war on drugs (meaning drug lords et al and not the hapless users), we would have been so much better prepared for any intrusion by “non state” actors.

    we have no clue how to deal with informal power structures, so we strike out at what is tangible::: the user.

    not that anyone lets the ungodly amount of money involved stop them from doing the right thing:::

    we really are, in so many ways, clueless.

    drug dealers are real terrorists and the damage is tangible in billions of untaxed dollars, untold lives destroyed, and city infrastructures pushed to the max.

    not to mention tobacco. but at least that’s taxed. yet people seem to forget that they, the consumer, are paying the tax. why aren’t we skimming money from these terrorists net profit to outfit trust funds to offset health/social costs.

    alcohol problem too, but well, we need some vices. after all.

  2. on drugs? seems to me their focus is not on the ‘juice’ but the corruption that delivers it, from the pols and cops alcohol, to the corner drug sales bags. The villains in this show are not the drugs but the pushers from pols to gangsters. Actually the main drug here is money.  

    • C Barr on March 7, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Decriminalizing drugs doesn’t necessarily lead to advertising of heroin on billboards.  The effects of criminalizing drug use has more negative societal impact then the drug use itself.  But decriminalization would remove much of the profit involved and it isn’t just street dealers who are involved in the money game.  California spends more money on the prison-industrial complex than it does on public schools.  And the international drug trade provides an unimaginable ammount of untraceable cash.  A lot of that money supports what appear to be above-board institutions and operations.  Read anything in the news about the CIA related cocaine laden jet plane crash in Mexico lately?  It dropped off the radar in more ways than one.  What’s in the news?  Kosovo is the corridor for heroin trade between Afghanistan and Europe.  Colombia is a narco-state.  Some drug dealers run afoul of the law and some run governments.

    • robodd on March 7, 2008 at 5:41 pm

    Some areas actually have drug courts, where more appropriate remedies are worked out between the court, prosecutors, defenders and users.  You will also recall the federal court judges were given discretion on departing on sentencing guidelines after much problems with the severe sentences for minor infractions.  So, the system can work if allowed to do so in a non-political way.

    And the latter is the problem.  There is a huge investment in maintaining the drug war.  Politically and actually as a business.  In foreign countries, as a means to go after political enemies of corporatists.  Domestically, with the privitization of prisons and the expansion of police power, including spying.  Until there is the political will to take on these interests, the drug war will remain.

  3. The Wire at its finest…

  4. so caught up in the argument about legalization and addicts that we forget to recognize all the different ways innocent people pay the price for this drug war. I found this at The Latin Americanist.

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