HBO is making a six-episode miniseries based on Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton’s recently released book, “We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption.”
A network official and creators of the miniseries confirmed that “We Own This City” will be shot in Baltimore City and executive-produced by several alumni of “The Wire” including series creator David Simon and George Pelecanos.
Fenton, who has reported for the Sun since 2005, wrote the book after covering the trials of the members of the Baltimore Police Department’s disgraced Gun Trace Task Force and writing a three-part series of articles published in 2019 called “Cops and Robbers.” Over his tenure at the paper he has covered the Baltimore Police Department, the courts and the juvenile justice system.
Fenton’s reporting detailed how Wayne Jenkins, who led the elite unit, robbed drug dealers, planted drugs and guns on innocent people and assaulted seemingly random civilians. Jenkins and several other members of the Task Force are serving long federal sentences.
As HBO’s synopsis of the show puts it, “...’We Own This City’ is a six-hour miniseries chronicling the rise and fall of the Baltimore Police Department’s Gun Trace Task Force — and the corruption and moral collapse that befell an American city in which the policies of drug prohibition and mass arrest were championed at the expense of actual police work.”
Baltimore’s police department has long been troubled. A 2016 Justice Department report found the city’s police “routinely violated the constitutional rights of residents by conducting unlawful stops and using excessive force,” particularly of African Americans. The city has been under a court-enforced consent decree to resolve the problems highlighted by the Justice Department report since 2017.
Fenton, who continues to cover the police department for The Sun, said, “When I put the book together I made a big timeline not only of the trial but events in the city,” such as the death of Freddie Gray in 2015 from injuries suffered while in police custody. ”It was put to me that this is the stuff of a book.”
A February review of the book in the Wall Street Journal noted, “It [We Own This City] layers the downfall of the Gun Trace Task Force in the larger story of the relationship between the BPD and the city, locked in the toxic tango of racism and violence that erupted after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, leading to protests and unrest in the street — and a spike in homicides.”
“This book is the culmination of my 13 years of reporting at the paper, drawing on years and years of context and contacts I made over the years,” Fenton said.
He is a consultant on the upcoming show, meaning, he said, “I answer how things happened and make sure it stays true to life.”
Simon is a former Baltimore Sun reporter and longtime writer/executive producer of HBO programs. His work for The Sun was turned into the long-running series “Homicide: Life on the Streets” and “The Wire.” In addition, he was a creator of “Treme,” “The Deuce” and “The Plot Against America,” among others.
Simon will be working with writing and producing partner Pelecanos. Pelecanos is the author of multiple crime fiction books set in the Washington D.C. area. In addition, he recently produced the drama “Fishbowl,” about a family preparing for the Rapture, for Amazon.
Another producing partner is Kary Antholis, a former HBO executive.
While the show will be filmed in Baltimore, shooting locations still are being worked out, according to Debbie Dorsey, director of the Baltimore Film Office.
“It’s super preliminary,” she said. “They haven’t even started scouting [locations] yet. We’re excited to get people back to work. We’re expecting things will be finalized later this spring.”