Is The Wire a fair depiction of the American culture of violence at its logical end? What did your field work teach you? What did the guest speakers have to say?

For the most part, I feel that The Wire is a very fair depiction of the American culture of violence that defines urban life in the United States.  However, this culture of violence is definitely not at its logical end.  While crime rates have been falling over the years, the issues that characterize The Wire are still largely evident in urban crime environments. Drugs are still being sold, people are still being shot and killed in gang-related feuds, and the police hierarchy is still as debilitating as ever.  Investigative reports detail the manner in which certain police officers juke the stats, or simply ignore certain situations as a result of their higher-ups pulling rank and commanding certain quotas or expectations.  While engaging in field work on our ride-along with officer Stonebreaker of the Richmond PD, it was abundantly clear that many of the same issues depicted in The Wire are present even in the Bay Area of California.  While on the ride-along, Officer Stonebreaker scared off groups of adolescents that he believed were slinging drugs in the alleyways of Richmond parks and public spaces.  Just like Carve and Herc would roll up on Bodie and other numerous hoppers on the corners of Baltimore’s West and East sides, Stonebreaker displayed a very similar technique.  While he couldn’t get out of the police car and chase anyone down with us riding along as passengers, he did use a process of intimidation to send a message to these dealers and suspects.   We also asked him whether he had ever participated in any wiretaps, and he said he had only sat in on one session where nothing turned up and he was extremely bored.  In that sense, The Wire does dramatize a lot of the pithy dialogue and fast-paced witty banter between the cops, but the actual plot lines of the show seem to be based on real events for the most part.  I feel that the biggest difference between the way that The Wire depicts police work and the reality of what we saw on the ride-along is the numerous hours of driving which are actually void of any significant action.  Not every police officer has a buddy-cop to gripe with, or to joke around with in the down-time.  The high-intensity car-chases that the American public sees on TV are also exaggerated given the fact that most police officers (especially murder police) don’t usually engage in such dramatic displays of police-work: “Television has given us the myth of the raging pursuit, the high-speed chase, but in truth there is no such thing; if there were, God knows the Cavalier would throw a rod after a dozen blocks and you’d be writing a Form 95 in which you respectfully submit to your commanding officer the reasons why you drove a city-owned four-cylinder wonder into an early grave. And there are no fist fights or running gun battles: The glory days of thumping someone on a domestic call or letting a round or two fly in the heat of some gas station holdup ended when you came down-town from patrol” (Simon, 16).  Although The Wire does depict scenes throughout its series in which officers do indeed chase down dealers and criminals and engage in gunfire battles, it seems that this is much, much more rare than portrayed in crime-based television programs.  In Stonebreaker’s case, it seems that he has to create ways to keep himself entertained when the job gets a bit dull, and he said it definitely did.  As guest speaker Henry Lee (of the SF Chronicle) explained, his job is “hours of boredom punctuated by seconds of terror”.  This seems especially synonymous with the job of a police officer too.   While The Wire does make an attempt to depict scenes where the police are simply bored and frustrated, I was struck by how real that inactivity can be when simply riding in a cop car on barren city streets.

Real police-work is not always as witty and exciting as the day-to-day routines of Herc and Carver in The Wire...

High-speed chases don't occur as often as one would think.... In fact, Officer Stonebreaker and journalist Henry Lee explain how the job of police work is often dull and tedious...

Perhaps the most significant way in which The Wire does act as a fair representation of the American culture of violence is the way in which inner-city urban youth are truly born into a certain lifestyle of crime.  While “The Game” may be a bit dramatized by larger than life characters such as Omar Litte and Brother Mouzone, it is nonetheless true that children and teenagers who remain in that kind of environment don’t know anything else in life.  If their parents or older siblings dealt drugs or participated in gang warfare as a means to survive and pay the rent, chances are that they will do the same.  Just as Avon Barksdale says to Stringer, “I’m just a ganster, I suppose” in the middle of the third Season, many gangsters and inner-city slingers feel the same way.  They feel that there is no other life for them out in the real world, and that they simply aren’t fit for anything else.  The fact that these slums and ghettos force young men and women to feel that way is tragic, but also very real.  There are real-life Bodies, Poots, D’Angelo’s, and Avon Barksdales.  Sure, they may not be as verbally heavy-handed or dramatic in their dealings, but they are out there, fighting the same fight that we see reflected back to us on the silver screen.

With it's run-down brick buildings and abundance of gang violence, Oakland doesn't seem so different from West Baltimore...

Some of Oakland's accused drug dealers: Just like in The Wire, slums and impoverished ghettos across the country create environments where minority citizens often feel they have no other choice but to participate in situations not dissimilar from "The Game".

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