An interview with David Simon, the man behind The Wire and Treme.
Bill Moyers: It’s also clear from your work that you think the drug war has destroyed the police.
David Simon: That’s the saddest thing in a way, again, because the stats mean nothing. Because a drug arrest in Baltimore means nothing. Real police work isn’t being done. In my city, the arrest rates for all major felonies have declined, precipitously, over the last twenty years. From murder to rape to robbery to assault.
Because to solve those crimes requires retroactive investigation. They have to be able to do a lot of things, in terms of gathering evidence, that are substantive and meaningful police work.
All you have to do to make a drug arrest is go in a guy’s pocket. You don’t even need probable cause anymore in Baltimore. The guy who solves a rape or a robbery or a murder, he has one arrest stat. He’s going to court one day. The guy who has forty, fifty, sixty drug arrests, even though they’re meaningless arrests, even though there’s no place to put them in the Maryland prison system, he’s going to go to court forty, fifty, sixty times. Ultimately, when it comes time to promote somebody, they look at the police computer. They’ll look and they’ll say, “This guy made forty arrests last month. You only made one. He’s the sergeant” or “That’s the lieutenant.” The guys who basically play the stat game, they get promoted.
Bill Moyers: There’s a scene in the third season of The Wire where the Baltimore police major Bunny Colvin, a favorite character, gives some rare straight talk on the futility of this drug war.
David Simon: I don’t think we have the stomach to actually evaluate it.
Bill Moyers: What do you mean?
David Simon: Again, we would have to ask ourselves a lot of hard questions. The people most affected by this are black and brown and poor. It’s the abandoned inner cores of our urban areas. As we said before, economically, we don’t need those people; the American economy doesn’t need them. So as long as they stay in their ghettos and they only kill each other, we’re willing to pay for a police presence to keep them out of our America. And to let them fight over scraps, which is what the drug war, effectively, is. Since we basically have become a market-based culture, that’s what we know, and it’s what’s led us to this sad dénouement. I think we’re going to follow market-based logic right to the bitter end.
Bill Moyers: Which says?
David Simon: If you don’t need ’em, why extend yourself? Why seriously assess what you’re doing to your poorest and most vulnerable citizens? There’s no profit to be had in doing anything other than marginalizing them and discarding them.