"The Wire" concluded its run on HBO in 2008, but Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III says Baltimore is still smarting from its depiction and that the show was a "smear on this city that will take decades to overcome."
At the Jan. 8 Amplify Baltimore event, Bealefeld told audience members that the show was the "most unfair use of literary license that we've borne witness to," according to video posted on YouTube (Thanks, Nate Mook of Localist.com)
"I heard all this stuff about, 'Well there's crime shows about L.A., about New York, about Miami,'" Bealefeld said. "You know what Miami gets in their crime show? They get detectives that look like models, and they drive around in sports cars. And you know what New York gets, they get these incredibly tough prosecutors, competant cops that solve the most crazy, complicated cases."
"What Baltimore gets is this reinforced notion that it's a city full of hopelessness, despair and dysfunction. There was very little effort - beyond self-serving - to highlight the great and wonderful things happening here, and to indict the whole population, the criminal justice system, the school system."
Those who have praised the show, including TV critics and universities that now teach courses on it, say it was that unflinching depiction of a part of society typically not dramatized on TV that made the show so important. Creator David Simon, a former Sun reporter, has said that the show was a larger indictment on the failings of inner city America - "ruminations on the end of an empire." We'd be remiss not to mention that The Sun took its own lickings in the final season, which Simon said was also intended to be a broader look at the role of the ever-shrinking media.
When the City Council in 2002 held a public hearing to try to find better ways to promote the city in light of "The Wire," Simon testified to defend the show's message. Here's what he said, excerpted from an article by reporter Gary Dorsey:
"The first season of The Wire, which is fictional but based in large part on the experiences of Baltimore Detective Edward Burns," he said, "is nothing more or less than a treatise against the drug war and a policy prohibition that has turned vast tracts of your city, the city that this council claims to govern and administer, into a barren battleground in a neverending war of attrition.
"Those of you who suggest such a viewpoint ought not be seen or heard in connection with Baltimore. ... I don't know what to say. I can only note that until we all begin to honestly assess the urban drug culture and our militarized response to it, there will continue to be more tragedies like the one that recently befell the Dawson family on the city's East Side. That got you more bad headlines around America. That got you more of a reputation around America than anything I put on HBO. That got you the editorials in The New York Times."
As his voice grew louder and quivered, at times, in anger, any hope that Simon would spring with an idea that would promote something heartening about Baltimore faded. He did acknowledge his "love" for the city, mentioning that he is also a taxpayer and voter in District 1. But he offered only one suggestion for promotion. His own decision to live in Baltimore "as opposed to New York or Los Angeles, where my industry is located," he said, is "admirable ... and I think it's certainly worthy of the council's attention of how the city could be better promoted."
Beyond that, he called the council "oblivious," the resolution "parochial," and their critique of his work "meaningless."
"I voted in recent elections to reduce your ranks by five," he concluded. "I see now that it may not have been reform enough. ... A more deliberative body with real responsibilities and a relevant agenda would be ashamed."
He turned to leave, but Council President Sheila Dixon called him back for a question.
"Mr. Simon," she said, "I would like to compliment you on your good writing. I just have a question: Have you ever had a thought on writing something pretty or positive about Baltimore? ... Is there something that will give the children something to look up to about the city of Baltimore?"
His answer: "I write what I know."