At the Amplify Baltimore event on January 8th, Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefield excoriated “The Wire,” calling it “a smear this city will take decades to overcome” and the “most unfair use of literary license that we’ve borne witness to.” Keep in mind as you read the quote below that “The Wire” is almost universally praised as the greatest television show ever made.
“I heard all this stuff about, ‘Well there’s crime shows about L.A., about New York, about Miami,’” Bealefeld said. “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.”
“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.” [Baltimore Sun via The A.V. Club]
Bealefield concluded his remarks by saying that college students would be better off studying “Family Guy” than “that stupid show.” OH NO HE DIH-N’T!
Of course, David Simon, the former Sun journalist who created “The Wire,” is notoriously prickly about defending his shows, and he responded with a bitch slap of verbiage that should send Bealefield crawling back to his “CSI”-loving hole. OMAR COMIN’, YO:
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…
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’s only about one-third of the response. Seriously, read the whole thing. Here’s some advice for public servants: if you’re going to lay the blame for society’s ills on TV, make sure all your other business is squared away. And pick on a show that isn’t run by David Simon.