This Is What The Wire Is Really About, According To Creator David Simon

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The Wire did what most shows could never do. Aside from making its stellar cast a ton of money, it dissected a series of relevant social issues in dramatic, entertaining, and brutally honest ways over the course of five seasons.


Many call David Simon’s show, the best of all time. Arguing that it even beats out The Sopranos. And just like The Sopranos, The Wire had an ending that split audiences and even the cast. Regardless of opinions about its conclusion, many feel that it remains one of the most important shows of all time.

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In an excellent interview with WAMC, The Wire’s creator delved into the origin of his passion for the hot-button issues that ultimately formed the core of his spectacular creative achievement.


How David Simon’s Time As A Police Reporter Informed The Wire

During David Simon’s ten years as a police reporter prior, the seeds of The Wire were planted. His experiences didn’t just inform the authenticity of the show, but also the message. Mainly his distrust in the police after seeing them arrest a lot of non-violent drug offenders; most of whom were people of color. And this is something David still sees today.

“We’ve been witness to a lot of police violence that is absolutely without question an affront to Black lives,” David Simon explained during his interview.

David went on to say that he covered over a hundred police shootings during his time as a police reporter. While he could see how these disproportionately affected communities of color, he also could see the argument for why the police needed to be armed. And he found a way of dealing with the nuanced argument in his show.

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“There’s a lot of guns on the street, there’s a lot of violence. It’s kind of hard to ask anybody to police anywhere in an American city, you know, with this level of gun saturation, and do so unarmed or do so in a circumstance where you’re never going to use your weapon, although many police go their whole careers without using their weapon.”

Even still, David knew a lot of what he was being told as a police reporter wasn’t the entire truth.

“There were a lot of shootings, as a reporter I have no consistency between the narrative that the police are telling me and the guy shot, or the witnesses,” David explained. “You would always be left with, you know, wondering, what was legit.”

But that’s not to say that none of the bad behavior on the part of the cops was reported.

“Then there were 5% of the cases where there were a lot of witnesses, and the police really did something wrong. And in those cases, there were controversies and I covered some of those.”

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“I think if you if you look at The Wire, the impulse towards brutality and towards non-accountability on the part of police department is embedded in the piece. I mean, I don’t think you have to go two and a half episodes before one of the police officers resorts to an unnecessary brutality and blinds a kid, blinds a kid in one eye in the projects, and his lieutenant explains to him how to lie about it to the internal investigators so that it won’t go further than the grand jury. That happened, I think, in episode three of a 60-episode show, and we revisited the idea of brutality.”

The Wire Is About The War On Illegal Substances

Drugs were front and center of The Wire and there’s no doubt that this was the topic David wanted to delve into the most. While racism and police brutality were part of it, the war on drugs tied the issues together and became the show’s focus.

“The one thing that is probably been my predominant theme for about a decade, certainly in The Wire, is to try to assert against the drug war, drug prohibition, as being an incredible disaster for the country and for American cities in particular,” David explained to WAMC.

“I tend to try to get near young impressionable minds and urge them to have nothing to do with the drug war. I think if I get that one done, I’ve done a little something. The drug war has always been, I think, a means of social control. And it’s always been targeted against fear of the other.”

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David then explained the origins of the war on drugs being linked to the late 19th century when a fear of Chinese immigrants (known for their opium dens) was spread.

“It’s always been linked to some fear of the immigrant other or the racial other. And if you look at the history of drug prohibition, it’s never come from an organic logic that says, by treating this as a criminal dynamic rather than a health problem, we can achieve anything. They’ve never sold that with any credible empiricism because it never does. It never fixes anything. It just makes for a lot of people in a lot of prisons. And at this point we never lost our mind quite as we did in the 1990s, but we did lose our minds and we filled prison after prison after prison with nonviolent offenders.”