Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Wire creators on how to end the Drug War

Posted By on Sun, Mar 9, 2008 at 11:13 AM


The best show on TV — ever — ends its five-year run tonight. I'm not going to go into detail on why you should watch The Wire , let's just say it's offered us a glimpse of the dysfunctional state of the inner-city we haven't seen elsewhere and are not likely to see again. In particular it's showed us what the so-called War on Drugs is doing to society.

This week's Time magazine includes an essay by the creators of the series: Ed Burns, David Simon and George Pelecanos.

We write a television show. Measured against more thoughtful and meaningful occupations, this is not the best seat from which to argue public policy or social justice. Still, those viewers who followed The Wire — our HBO drama that tried to portray all sides of inner-city collapse, including the drug war, with as much detail and as little judgment as we could muster — tell us they've invested in the fates of our characters. They worry or grieve for Bubbles, Bodie or Wallace, certain that these characters are fictional yet knowing they are rooted in the reality of the other America, the one rarely acknowledged by anything so overt as a TV drama.
These viewers, admittedly a small shard of the TV universe, deluge us with one question: What can we do? If there are two Americas — separate and unequal — and if the drug war has helped produce a psychic chasm between them, how can well-meaning, well-intentioned people begin to bridge those worlds?

The writers admit that their show did not really answer that question. They point to stats you've read about recently: The Pew Center report that shows that a full one percent of Americans are incarcerated, the highest rate in the world. Even if you haven't seen the report, you can probably guess that a disproportionate number of those prisoners are black. And yes, drug crimes play a major role in those numbers.
Getting back to that question, what can we do? The Wire writers offer a suggestion, something known historically as jury nullification .
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.

They're not saying someone like Marlo should go free, or even young Michael (and at this point I don't know what fate awaits either of them). But if I was on a jury where Bubbles was on trial for his lifestyle, I think I'd be willing to cut him loose. What about you?

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

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