Commentary: On the Drug War

Drug War Journalism On Newspapering and Journalism On the Drug War Policy & Law

Ain’t no justice. It’s just us.

In light of the frustration that many feel in the wake of this week’s mistrial in the first Freddy Gray prosecution, I thought I’d dig out an old newspaper clip. Written by veteran police reporter Roger Twigg and myself, it is an account of another Baltimorean who died in the back of a police wagon, and the early stages of an investigation that went nowhere once prosecutors, a city grand jury and police union lawyers did their business. In this instance, now nearly a quarter century old, the sustained injuries were not to the victim’s spinal cord, but to his spleen and his ribs. In this instance, the prisoner was also clearly in distress and ignored.  In this case, the wagon man rode the victim around Baltimore not for 45 minutes without medical assistance, but for a full hour. In this instance, the wagon man actually told other prisoners not to step on the prone victim, because, he said, the man had AIDS. And in this case, too, as with Mr. Gray, there was...

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Drug War Film and Television On Television On the Drug War

The Wire and Baltimore

It seems that despite the most temperate reply possible, I’ve been drawn into another absurdist debate about whether The Wire, or Homicide, or perhaps even The Corner is good or bad for Baltimore.  This time, the righteous indignation about the tarnish applied to my city’s reputation is from a gentleman named Mike Rowe.  A Baltimore native, he is employed elsewhere in this great diaspora of television and he has now assumed the mantle of defender of my city’s reputation. Mr. Rowe marks his displeasure with our work by reductively describing it as a depiction of “drug dealers” and “pimps” that is sufficient to convince anyone that Baltimore is a mere cesspool, certain and fixed.  In this simplicity, he joins, by late count, a few business leaders, several political aspirants and at least two police commissioners in decrying narratives that don’t provide the imagery with which Baltimore wishes to adorn itself. Having been specifically...

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On Police/Crime On the Drug War The Wire

Mr. Bealefeld’s Come-To-Jesus Moment

Embedded in a recently published interview of former Baltimore commissioner Fred Bealefeld is an extraordinary utterance — something that would and should be a lot more heralded if America were paying sufficient attention to the growing costs and failings of its drug prohibition: “Professionally,” declares Mr. Bealefeld in a brief interview with the Baltimore Sun Magazine,  “I think our war on drugs has failed…We invested a lot of this country’s blood and resources and didn’t achieve the results. Developing real educational and job opportunities for somebody would have been much more meaningful in neighborhoods than some of the work we built into putting people in jail. That’s why I think it was so misguided. We wound up alienating a lot of folks in building this gigantic jail system in our country.” The former commissioner also credited a strategic de-emphasis of the drug war with enabling his department to focus on violent crime:  “I always...

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On the Drug War

A Fight To The Last Mexican

“A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it the superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.” So wrote Thomas Paine against monarchy, the morally bankrupt ethos of his day.  But then, it was a less fearful time, and the political leaders of Paine’s moment were scarcely risk-adverse.  Indeed, they were willing to address the moral questions before them to the point of treason. Not so today, when we can hold a national political contest and neither candidate — nor their respective parties — can find the courage to speak a word about the policy disaster and dishonorable fraud that is the American drug war. So here, for the hell of it – and because it can never happen in American political discourse – let’s take a solitary moment to be honest with ourselves about why we remain addicted to drug prohibition. Addicted is the precise word, too...

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On the Drug War Published Elsewhere

From Time Magazine: End The Drug War

by Ed Burns, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, Richard Price, David Simon and William F. Zorzi Jr. From Time Magazine, March 17, 2008 Reprinted with permission. We write a television show. Measured against more thoughtful and meaningful occupations, this is not the best seat from which to argue public policy or social justice. Still, those viewers who followed The Wire – our HBO drama that tried to portray all sides of inner-city collapse, including the drug war, with as much detail and as little judgment as we could muster – tell us they’ve invested in the fates of our characters. They worry or grieve for Bubbles, Bodie or Wallace, certain that these characters are fictional yet knowing they are rooted in the reality of the other America, the one rarely acknowledged by anything so overt as a TV drama. These viewers, admittedly a small shard of the TV universe, deluge us with one question: What can we do? If there are two Americas – separate and unequal – and if the drug war has helped...

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