Tag: The Wire

The Writers of The Wire on the Drug War

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.

“They All Disappoint”

The best show on television today is “The Wire.” In subsequent entries, I’ll explain why I think so. Its new season, Season 5, starts in January and The Wire will be one of the things I write about. Season 4 focused on politics a good deal.

At the finale to Season 4, the new mayor of Baltimore, where the show is set, is faced with the dilemma of doing “the right thing” and doing what he perceives is the right thing politically (the plot point involves “eating shit” so the Baltimore schools get money it needs vs. what’s right for his shot at being Governor. You know what he does.

Afterwards, his close aide, who fought the campaign with him, discusses this with the chief of staff of the former mayor, saying “can’t believe he left the money on the table.” The former COS responds “they all disappoint.” And indeed, they do. They’ve all disappointed, even Lincoln, FDR and Bobby Kennedy.

As citizens and activists, our allegiances have to be to the issues we believe in. I am a partisan Democrat it is true. But the reason I am is because I know who we can pressure to do the right thing some of the times. Republicans aren’t them. But that does not mean we accept the failings of our Democrats. There is nothing more important that we can do, as citizens, activists or bloggers than fight to pressure DEMOCRATS to do the right thing on OUR issues.

And this is true in every context I think. Be it pressing the Speaker or the Senate majority leader, or the new hope running for President. There is nothing more important we can do. Nothing. It’s more important BY FAR than “fighting” for your favorite pol because your favorite pol will ALWAYS, I mean ALWAYS, disappoint you.

In the middle of primary fights, citizens, activists and bloggers like to think their guy or woman is different. They are going to change the way politics works. They are going to not disappoint. In short, they are not going to be pols. That is, in a word, idiotic.

Yes, they are all pols. And they do what they do. Do not fight for pols. Fight for the issues you care about. That often means fighting for a pol of course. But remember, you are fighting for the issues. Not the pols.

More on this theme in a week or so. I’m traveling.