Watch 'The Wire'

By Chandra Bozelko

January 18, 2019 5 min read

I don't know why people stay glued to Senate confirmation proceedings for cabinet appointees like Former-Attorney-General-About-To-Be-Attorney-General-Again William P. Barr. We just spent two days watching a seemingly interminable job interview posing questions like whether or not Barr will uphold the law. What do the senators think a potential attorney general would answer to that inquiry, especially when he knows it's coming? Of course he replied with a pat, prepared promise to abide.

Watching these hearings is a waste of time.

If you want to know the challenges an attorney general will face during his or her tenure as the top law enforcement officer in the country and what harm can come from careless decision-making in that position, a much smarter investment of your screen hours would be to watch the HBO series "The Wire."

Even as a "Sopranos" superfan, I admit that "The Wire" is the best television series ever made. It's also the best education on the pentagonal nexus of poverty, education, race, politics and justice you can find.

Set in Baltimore in the early aughts, the plots of the "The Wire" scorched the war on drugs, especially after the feds deprioritized drugs for terrorism after 9/11 and left the fighting to state and local police departments. "The Wire's" co-creator David Simon called the American brand of drug enforcement a "venal war on our underclass."

About 27 years ago, Barr himself was a real general in the battles presented in the ostensible fiction of "The Wire." He helped President George H.W. Bush achieve his dream of the "more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors" that appear in the show. Barr approved then of the extrajudicial killing of drug dealers, seeing the danger they posed as tantamount to terrorism. If the government didn't kill them, then it was just as acceptable to let them die.

Three characters on "The Wire" in particular represent the young black men who've borne the brunt of the policies Barr defended.

The first is Wallace, played by "Black Panther"star Michael B. Jordan, a teen who sells heroin so he can raise multiple children who may or may not be his younger siblings as they squat in an abandoned row house. After seeing the body of a man mutilated as a consequence of street violence, Wallace treats that trauma with his own product and is eventually killed when leaders suspect him of cooperating with police.

Then there's Duquan "Dukie" Weems, played by Jermaine Crawford, who's so neglected by his family that he neither bathes nor eats. He drops out of middle school and is seen in the last season shooting up.

And Michael Lee, played by Tristan Wilds, conscripts himself into gang service and drug sales in exchange for a hit on his half-brother's father who has sexually molested Michael and poses the same risk to others.

When the series ends, Wallace has long been deceased, Dukie's on his way, and Michael's taken a few black lives himself, all as a result of real-life policies our nominated attorney general propped up the last time he occupied the post.

Just and effective crime control lies not in locking up and exterminating people involved in the narcotics trade but rather in how we convince the Wallaces, Dukies and Michaels in this country that they matter. It lies in a pledge to end the pain of poverty that propels them into illegal activity in the first place.

When questioned by Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., Barr testified that his views on crime and law enforcement — particularly when it came to sentences meted out over crimes that involved crack cocaine — have evolved over time.

But his positions didn't mature enough for Barr to mention that he knows what's happened to the Wallaces, the Dukies and the Michaels as a result of policies he's supported. He didn't acknowledge that the decisions he will make as attorney general this time around must assure that it doesn't happen to another generation of them.

I wish a senator had asked the nominee if he's ever seen "The Wire." If Barr's watched the show, then he wouldn't have had any prepared, pat answers and not because he wouldn't know what to say to be confirmed.

If Barr's watched the show, he wouldn't have appeared at the hearing to ask for the job because he would know that the war on drugs should become history and not repeat itself.

To find out more about Chandra Bozelko and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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