To critics and fans, HBO’s The Wire’s uncompromising look at a city in decay is exactly what made it so important—not only as a rarity in television drama, but as a sociological snapshot that’s even worthy of academic study. But Baltimore’s Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld, it seems, just wishes it had been more like CSI: Miami: Asked to comment on the show during last week’s Amplify Baltimore event, Bealefeld called The Wire a “smear on this city that will take decades to overcome,” saying, “You know what Miami gets in their crime show? They get detectives that look like models, and they drive around in sports cars. And you know what New York gets? They get these incredibly tough prosecutors, competent cops that solve the most crazy, complicated cases.” Yet on The Wire, Bealefeld says, “What Baltimore gets is this reinforced notion that it's a city full of hopelessness, despair and dysfunction. There was very little effort—beyond self-serving—to highlight the great and wonderful things happening here, and to indict the whole population, the criminal justice system, the school system.” You can check out video of Bealefeld’s comments below.
Now Wire creator David Simon has responded to Bealefeld’s criticism with a long, uncompromising rebuttal—one that takes Bealefeld to task, in usual David Simon style, for the failings in the Baltimore police department that inspired the show in the first place. It’s worth reading in its entirety, but here’s an excerpt:
Publicly, let me state that The Wire owes no apologies—at least not for its depiction of those portions of Baltimore where we set our story, for its address of economic and political priorities and urban poverty, for its discussion of the drug war and the damage done from that misguided prohibition, or for its attention to the cover-your-ass institutional dynamic that leads, say, big-city police commissioners to perceive a fictional narrative, rather than actual, complex urban problems as a cause for righteous concern. As citizens using a fictional narrative as a means of arguing different priorities or policies, those who created and worked on The Wire have dissented.
Commissioner Bealefeld may not be comfortable with public dissent, or even a public critique of his agency. He may even believe that the recent decline in crime entitles him to denigrate as "stupid" or "slander" all prior dissent, as if the previous two decades of mismanagement in the Baltimore department had not happened and should not have been addressed by any act of storytelling, given that Baltimore is no longer among the most violent American cities, but merely a very violent one.
Others might reasonably argue, however that it is not sixty hours of The Wire that will require decades for our city to overcome, as the commissioner claims. A more lingering problem might be two decades of bad performance by a police agency more obsessed with statistics than substance, with appeasing political leadership rather than seriously addressing the roots of city violence, with shifting blame rather than taking responsibility. That is the police department we depicted in The Wire, give or take our depiction of some conscientious officers and supervisors. And that is an accurate depiction of the Baltimore department for much of the last twenty years, from the late 1980s, when cocaine hit and the drug corners blossomed, until recently, when Mr. O'Malley became governor and the pressure to clear those corners without regard to legality and to make crime disappear on paper finally gave way to some normalcy and, perhaps, some police work. Commissioner Bealefeld, who was present for much of that history, knows it as well as anyone associated with The Wire.
Of course, you’ll notice Simon fails to address The Wire’s lack of detectives who look like models, but otherwise it’s a fairly reasoned counterargument.
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