I just got finished watching 4 seasons of the epic HBO show The Wire (I skipped the mind-numbingly slow season 2). An incredibly heavy-hearted show about the unseen America. It’s fictional, but it puts itself out there publicly as highly authentic and syncs with realities in urban America. There are plenty of real ex-traffickers, police people, educators who were involved in the production of the show. I found it to be extremely rich in themes, metaphors, and wise-man quotes. Since a lot of people tend not to pay attention to news outside of their created worlds unless its on a television show, The Wire is a great popular piece to investigate our own realities.
It’s about life in the city, the non-bourgeois city. It’s about the drug trade. It’s about policing. It’s about the education system. It’s about local politics. It’s about broken governments and bureaucracies. It’s about the newspaper. It’s about life in the projects. Its about life without many options. It’s about re-working the system. It’s about organizations. It’s about contracts. Its about surveillence. It’s tragic. It’s happy. It keeps going.
Police brutality was touched on a bit in the show, but this tended to be shown via fringe characters who portrayed new and inexperienced cops like this one character named Walker. Walker, asshole Baltimore Cop, basically robs street people using procedural policey language to justify theivery, who uses excessive force, and basically ignores regular citizens. A guy hellbent on punishment and revenge.
And finally, the corner boys from Season 4 pull off revenge against Walker.
After watching the first 3 clips, tell me that the last one isn’t sweet.
Now the series wasn’t hellbent on making any one group of people (except possibly academics) look especially bad. They were pretty good about balancing the good with the bad for every demographic group. Walker exemplified the bad of policing. At the tail end of that last clip, we saw Walker talk about the incident with 4 other cops. Their solution? To get revenge, the Western District Way.
I saw these scenes and I wondered what conditions produced such a mindset in institution such police that their job is to get revenge. I remember a quote about the LA Riots in 1992 that the LAPD said that they as much as the communities felt abandoned by their superiors and acted accordingly. They feel beaten up at work by superiors, they go to the streets, they kick their proverbial “dogs”/citizens on the street.
I also saw these scenes and I think about every underreported case of police brutality in real life. For every Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant that grabs the headlines, what else do we miss?
The irony in this show is that the good, highly ethical cops in the often bend state/bureaucratically-imposed rules. The good cops portrayed aimed towards doing “good police work”, which meant both solving crimes with deeper implications and watching over communities. The characters Sgt. Carver and Bunny Colvin talked about the nature of policing versus soldiering, wherein policing involved communal interaction as opposed to soldiering where it becomes a useless battle for turf.
The idea of police actually watching over communities is really lost upon me. I wonder if that was ever true in Los Angeles history with the LAPD. Given our retarding economy, combined with the fact that its probably not high on the revenue-generating list, I wonder if community policing is even ever possible to ever do outside of the housing projects and into other communities.
I don’t know any cops name, the only time I see them is on Nordhoff Street arresting someone. Juxtaposing the police brutality cases, I haven’t really seen them do anything positive. To me it seems like their game is all about meeting numbers and venting frustrations. Even though I know there probably exist do-gooders in the police, they are nothing but a distant, disconnected entity to fear.