Having toured the country over 25 times with past heavy metal and punk rock bands that I’ve played in, I’ve seen a lot of slums, ghettos, and poverty-stricken cities across the entire nation. While I currently live in the Bay Area and grew up in the suburbs of San Mateo County, I’ve spent a significant amount of time in cities not dissimilar to the West Baltimore represented throughout the five seasons of The Wire. I’ve stayed in the run-down ghettos of Indianapolis, New York City, Michigan, Los Angeles, and countless other decimated inner-city environments. From what I’ve gathered over my years traveling with a band combined with what I’ve witnessed growing up in the Bay Area, I can say that the depiction of West Baltimore in The Wire doesn’t really exaggerate the reality of similar cities in other parts of the country. I’ve seen similar corners where questionable figures are slinging drugs. I’ve heard gunshots and seen people thrown into police cars heading downtown. While West Baltimore definitely seems a bit more impoverished than the Bay Area or any other heterogeneous metropolis-type area, the realities of its crime and violence ring true for most of America’s slums. Having spent a lot of time in Oakland, it sometimes feels just like The Wire in its ominous atmosphere. As I explained previously, it is obvious that David Simon and HBO took some slight liberties in making the conversations between gangsters and police so fast-paced and attention-grabbing. However, the fact remains that the actors and actresses that appear in The Wire are fantastic at what they do, which can make such a dramatic and frightful setting seem so real when viewing from the comfort of your own home. However, I get the sense that the actual manner in which crimes are committed is much less polished and a lot more dirty, void of any witty dialogue and edge of your seat-type moments. As a whole though, I believe that the series is indeed a fair representation of similar tragedies across the nation. Politics and the struggle for reputation and power is sure to characterize most police districts throughout the country. Furthermore, I’m sure that drugs are dealt in a similar fashion in real life as they are in The Wire, involving levels of command as relates to the selling, distribution, leadership, and ultimate authority of the entire operation.
While on the ride-along with officer Stonebreaker, it did at times feel like a scene straight out of The Wire. The corners and alleyways of Richmond were much less noisy and far less populated, but we still saw people running from the flashing lights of our police vehicle, scurrying into distant and dark getaways to escape a potential arrest or questioning. From what I gathered through our conversations with officer Stonebreaker, it seems as if Richmond has experienced waves of crime and violence. In contrast, it seems to never let up in the West Baltimore portrayed in The Wire. A key difference between our first-hand experience with the Richmond PD and the scenarios acted out in The Wire is the fact that we weren’t riding along with a murder police like Bunk or McNulty. Instead, it felt more like taking a backseat to an expedition alongside Herc or Carve, despite the lack of action that we experienced on our particular night. Throughout the two-hour ridealong I couldn’t help but feel a bit letdown by the anticlimactic nature of the experience as a whole. It was interesting to see Stonebreaker scare off questionable figures with his sirens and use of intimidation, but there was a definite disconnect between what our group had been inundated with through watching numerous episodes The Wire, and what we were seeing first-hand on that night in Richmond. I don’t doubt for a second that extremely violent crimes are committed in the urban ghettos of the Bay Area on a daily basis, but The Wire just makes it seem so normal, as if you enter West Baltimore and can’t help but be completely consumed by crime and violence. That’s not how the ride-along felt, and that’s not how I’ve ever really felt while living in the Bay Area. There are certainly areas of the Bay that I wouldn’t feel comfortable in for a long period of time, but that doesn’t mean that infamous gangsters exist behind the curtains, ordering young hoppers to sling their product. The fact remains that I am a white, 23 year old male from the suburbs, and simply haven’t been exposed to these things in an intimate way while living in the Bay Area. Although it seems unlikely that such eccentric and fascinating characters exist in the poverty-stricken slums of the Bay Area, It is hard to believe that the depiction of West Baltimore within The Wire is that far off from the realities of similar settings in the Bay Area and throughout the rest of the country. While speaking with officer Stonebreaker, there was no confusion as to how serious the drug-trafficking and violence is in cities like Richmond, but he didn’t exude that air of hopelessness and jaded fatigue that McNulty, Bunk, and Herc seem to carry with them on their numerous crusades against corruption and violence in West Baltimore. Thus, through my real-life experiences as a young adult and my first-ever ride along as part of this class’s field work assignment, I can confidently say that The Wire does a great job at representing the cut-throat nature of impoverished and violent inner-city ghettos. While the series seems to takes obvious and understandable liberties in making the drama so compelling and fit for the medium of television, it nonetheless stays remarkably true to the realities of underclass crime and violence throughout the entire country…at least from what I can tell!