Baltimore Police Commissioner Criticizes The Wire, David Simon Retorts

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Baltimore Police Commissioner Criticizes <i>The Wire</i>, David Simon Retorts

The Wire has been hailed as one of the greatest TV shows of the decade by myriad critics. It is a triumphant drama that tells the story of a broken system, a decaying city,and the fight for the American Dream. However, not everyone is in love with The Wire—particularly the Police Commissioner of Baltimore, the city that provides the setting for the show.

Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld spoke out against the show when asked to comment on it at last week’s Amplify Baltimore event, calling The Wire a “smear on this city that will take decades to overcome.” Bealefeld compared the treatment of the city to that of cities in other crime shows such as the various incarnations of CSI and Law & Order. “You know what Miami gets in their crime show?” he asked rhetorically. “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.” On the other hand, “What Baltimore gets is this reinforced notion that it’s a city full of hopelessness, despair and dysfunction,” he said.

In response to the Police Commissioner’s comments, Wire-creator and Paste’s 2010 Person of the Year in TV, David Simon, responded with a no-holds-barred retort that holds the Baltimore Police Department accountable for exactly the same kind of problems depicted in the show.

As The A.V. Club points out, the rebuttal is worth reading in its entirety. However, find an excerpt below along with a video of Police Commissioner Bealefeld’s initial comments:

Excerpt from Simon’s Rebuttal:

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.