It’s a long video but watch from minute 4.30.
This scene in season two of the Wire sees Omar Little (played by Michael K. Williams), a notorious, homosexual black man who makes a living from stealing drug-dealers ‘stashes’ in a court room testifying against a well-known drug-dealer called ‘Bird’. ‘Bird’ was on trial for killing a witness that had testified in a murder case. Omar has a problem with this because, even though he robs drug-dealers, he would never turn his gun on an innocent person. When he comes onto the streets of Baltimore, with his characteristic black trench coat and rifle hanging loosely by his side, the street clear as everyone flees yelling ‘It’s Omar! Omar!’. He’s a figure that illicits fear, awe and fury (for the victims of his assaults – the innocent drug-peddlers).
In this scene he is being cross-examined by the defense attorney representing ‘Bird’ – the lawyer that represents all of the members of the infamous ‘Barksdale’ organisation. The same organisation that are dealing drugs with immunity and killing civilians and witnesses as they see fit.
Lawyer: So you rob drug dealers? This is what you do?
Omar: Yes, sir!
Lawyer: You walk the streets of Baltimore, carrying a gun. Taking what you want, when you want it, willing to use violence when your demands aren’t met. This is who you are. Why should we believe your testimony? Why believe anything you say?
Omar: Well, that’s up to y’all really (referring to jury)
Lawyer: You say you aren’t here testifying against the defendant because of any deal you made with police?
Omar: True that!
Lawyer: You say you’re here because you want to tell the truth about what happened to mister Gant in that housing project parking lot?
Lawyer: When you are, in fact, exactly the type of person who would, if you felt you needed to, gun a man down on a housing project parking lot and lie to the police about it. Would you not?
Omar: Hey look, I aint never put my gun on no citizen.
Lawyer: You are amoral. Are you not? You are feeding off the violence and despair of the drug trade. You are stealing from those who themselves are stealing the life-blood from our city. You are a parasite who leaches off the culture of drugs…
Omar: So are you, man
Lawyer: Excuse me? What?
Omar: I got the shot-gun… You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game though, right?
This scene always blows me away. It is, undoubtedly, one of my favourite television moments, if not my favourite television show of all time. The Wire introduced me to a world that was previously unfathomable to my sheltered existence in my suburban European capital. Set in Baltimore, Maryland the show follows the narcotics dealers, victims and addicts. It ties in how the police department are fighting a losing battle against drugs. It incorporates the underfunded school-systems and the dying dock-trade that was once the pulsing heart of an increasingly dangerous, drug-saturated city. It shows you the world of a corner-boys who, through lack of educational and employment prospects, have no choice but to take to the streets peddling drugs, shortening their life-expectancy dramatically. The world of the cops – who fight a losing battle every day and are victims of the dysfunctional ‘chain of command’. The world of the drug addicts – drugs being their only way of escaping a life of violence, with no prospects. The show intertwines these stories expertly and leaves us questioning our prior conceptions of who is ‘good’ and who is ‘bad’. Nobody is either – people are products of their circumstances, forced to make decisions.
The show’s creator, David Simon, is in a unique position of understanding all sides of the drug-trade in Baltimore, his home-city. He wrote two amazing books – one from the perspective of the drug-addicts called, ‘The Corner’. One from the perspective of the Baltimore homicide police department called, ‘Homocide’. In order to write these books he indulged himself in the corner life of the drug-dealers and addicts for a year and also spent a year working alongside the homicide cops. He sees the ‘war’ for what it is – unwinnable.
Baltimore is one of the worse drug-ravaged cities in the USA, once a thriving port city, it is now a shell of its former productivity. I watched a documentary a while ago called ‘Breaking the Taboo’ that focused on the futility of drug prohibition. The USA prohibited alcohol in the early 1900s and that was a colossal failure – giving rise to a new generation of criminals called ‘bootleggers’. The criminalisation of drugs turns addicts into criminals, terrified of getting help for fear of incarceration. America is the country with the highest rate of incarcerated individuals per capita and most of them are in there due to drug-related crimes. Am i the only one drawing a conclusion here? You are pumping billions every year into the attempt to alleviate the drug trade, not only in your own country, but in the south American countries in which the drugs originate, while labelling addicts criminals. I understand that all drugs cannot be legalised but this hard-line approach is not working. A more liberal approach needs to be formulated. In the states that have recently legalised marijuana in 2012, Colorado and Washington, a new set of problems have arisen. Because federal bank law overrides state law, these vendors are forced to keep huge amounts of money on their premises because the banks are not allowed to deal with drug-money (i am not phrasing this too eloquently but you get my drift) and these vendors have been victims of robberies. Despite that, he state approach has been successful and many other states are following their lead, such as Alaska.
Another thing the Wire highlights throughout its seasons is white and blue collar crime. What makes a lawyer who knowingly represents drug-dealers and murders any better than a man who steals from those same drug-dealers to make a living? A briefcase, used to commit crimes is as harmful as a gun. Here in Ireland i am incredulous as to the amount of people who go to prison for violent and drug-related crimes and yet politicians and bankers can consciously swindle millions of other’s money and walk away with no charge. Justice? I think not. The Wire deals with this type of corruption expertly.
But like Omar says, ‘It’s all in the game’. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. If the culture around drug prohibition in the States did not exist (make it above board, collect taxes for the drugs) – neither would these characters. No matter how many drug-criminals you lock up, there will be more to take their place. Deal with the root cause; the drugs themselves.
The Wire also has various incredible actors playing these deep, dysfunctional characters. These include Idris Elba (playing Stringer Bell – drug king-pin and wannabe business man), Pablo Schreiber (Pornstache from Orange is the New Black) playing Nik Sabotka in season 2. Dominic West playing Jimmy McNulty and of course, our very own (Irish) Aidan Gillen playing the mayor, Tommy Carcetti. To name but a few.