Creator of The Wire issues heartfelt critique of “war on drugs”

Last week, actress Felicia Pearson, who plays “Snoop” on The Wire, was arrested as part of a major drug raid that included 30 people. While this is certainly disappointing news, because I think a lot of people are rooting for her success after her involvement with the show, I was particularly struck by the reaction of David Simon, creator and executive producer of The Wire and Pearson’s colleague.

As reported by Brow Beat, Simon issued a comment on the matter that I found to be pretty remarkable.

After criticizing the entertainment industry for telling relatively few stories about “the other America”, he goes on to declare his belief that the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass and that he feels “ill-equipped” to judge Pearson in this matter because “the opportunities and experiences of her life do not correspond in any way with my own, and her America is different from my own.”

Which sounds to me like a pretty radical, if not slightly vaguely worded, admission and acknowledgment of what we in the feminist community like to call white guy privilege.

Even though Simon has publicly testified on his distaste for bloggers, I won’t let that cloud my judgment, and I’ll go ahead and say that I think the statement is both insightful and brave.

I’m not saying that The Wire is a perfect show, or even that Simon is a perfect writer. Here on Feministing, Rose has written about The Wire’s gender problem, and others have criticized the show for a variety of reasons, many of which I find valid and compelling. But all that notwithstanding, this is one case in which I’m glad to see a thoughtful perspective on race, class, and privilege, written by a white, rich, and privileged guy.

Check it out for yourself and let me know what ya think. Transcript of the Simon’s full statement is after the jump.

Creator of the Wire David Simon with sunglasses on his head

First of all, Felicia’s entitled to the presumption of innocence. And I would note that a previous, but recent drug arrest that targeted her was later found to be unwarranted and the charges were dropped. Nonetheless, I’m certainly sad at the news today. This young lady has, from her earliest moments, had one of the hardest lives imaginable. And whatever good fortune came from her role in The Wire seems, in retrospect, limited to that project. She worked hard as an actor and was entirely professional, but the entertainment industry as a whole does not offer a great many roles for those who can portray people from the other America. There are, in fact, relatively few stories told about the other America.

Beyond that, I am waiting to see whether the charges against Felicia relate to heroin or marijuana. Obviously, the former would be, to my mind, a far more serious matter. And further, I am waiting to see if the charges or statement of facts offered by the government reflect any involvement with acts of violence, which would of course be of much greater concern.

In an essay published two years ago in Time magazine, the writers of The Wire made the argument that we believe the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral. And we said then that if asked to serve on any jury considering a non-violent drug offense, we would move to nullify that jury’s verdict and vote to acquit. Regardless of the defendant, I still believe such a course of action would be just in any case in which drug offenses—absent proof of violent acts—are alleged.

Both our Constitution and our common law guarantee that we will be judged by our peers. But in truth, there are now two Americas, politically and economically distinct. I, for one, do not qualify as a peer to Felicia Pearson. The opportunities and experiences of her life do not correspond in any way with my own, and her America is different from my own. I am therefore ill-equipped to be her judge in this matter.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted March 14, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    That raises the issue of whose role it is to be judge and to advance progress.

  2. Posted March 15, 2011 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how well it relates to this topic, but Black pot smokers are far more likely to be arrested for smoking/possessing pot than are White pot smokers. I think if White people (and rich people) were held to the same level of legal scrutiny (especially for more dangerous drugs), I don’t people would feel as smug about drug use.

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