Wire Writers Speak

AHCL’s post on the “war on drugs” and my response started with AHCL’s question on the overall message of The Wire with regard to that “war.” Was the message intended to be that the WoD is unwinnable but worth fighting? Or was it that the WoD is unwinnable and self-destructive?

Now (with a hat tip to Washington State Criminal Defense, a blawg that somehow escaped my attention for six months, and via Time magazine) we get the answer straight from the horses’ mouth:

Yet this war grinds on, flooding our prisons, devouring resources, turning city neighborhoods into free-fire zones. To what end? State and federal prisons are packed with victims of the drug conflict. A new report by the Pew Center shows that 1 of every 100 adults in the U.S. — and 1 in 15 black men over 18 — is currently incarcerated. That’s the world’s highest rate of imprisonment.

The drug war has ravaged law enforcement too. In cities where police agencies commit the most resources to arresting their way out of their drug problems, the arrest rates for violent crime — murder, rape, aggravated assault — have declined. In Baltimore, where we set The Wire, drug arrests have skyrocketed over the past three decades, yet in that same span, arrest rates for murder have gone from 80% and 90% to half that. Lost in an unwinnable drug war, a new generation of law officers is no longer capable of investigating crime properly, having learned only to make court pay by grabbing cheap, meaningless drug arrests off the nearest corner.

What the drugs themselves have not destroyed, the warfare against them has. And what once began, perhaps, as a battle against dangerous substances long ago transformed itself into a venal war on our underclass. Since declaring war on drugs nearly 40 years ago, we’ve been demonizing our most desperate citizens, isolating and incarcerating them and otherwise denying them a role in the American collective. All to no purpose. The prison population doubles and doubles again; the drugs remain.

I’d say that’s a pretty unambiguous five votes for “unwinnable and self-destructive.” Not a War on Brown People, as I contend, but a “venal war on our underclass” — effectively the same thing. But, lest you be unconvinced (and as they say on TV), wait! There’s more!:

If asked to serve on a jury deliberating a violation of state or federal drug laws, we will vote to acquit, regardless of the evidence presented. Save for a prosecution in which acts of violence or intended violence are alleged, we will — to borrow Justice Harry Blackmun’s manifesto against the death penalty — no longer tinker with the machinery of the drug war. No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens.

Jury nullification is American dissent, as old and as heralded as the 1735 trial of John Peter Zenger, who was acquitted of seditious libel against the royal governor of New York, and absent a government capable of repairing injustices, it is legitimate protest. If some few episodes of a television entertainment have caused others to reflect on the war zones we have created in our cities and the human beings stranded there, we ask that those people might also consider their conscience. And when the lawyers or the judge or your fellow jurors seek explanation, think for a moment on Bubbles or Bodie or Wallace. And remember that the lives being held in the balance aren’t fictional.

Not only is the WoD unwinnable and self-destructive, but we should exercise our right as free-born men of the U.S.A. to nullify in any drug prosecution in which we are serving as jurors.

Jury nullification on the pages of Time magazine. God Bless America.

About Mark Bennett

Mark Bennett got his letter of marque from the Supreme Court of Texas in May 1995. He is famous for having no sense of humor when it comes to totalitarianism.
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3 Responses to Wire Writers Speak

  1. Ron in Houston says:

    It is amazing to see talk of jury nullification in Time.

    Unfortunately it’s only one small dissent against an out of control system.

    I hoping rationality and reason will someday return. I also regularly tilt at windmills.

  2. Colin says:

    here in baltimore, jury nullification is a daily happening. around here, people joke about the army of motsly older black women (hereafter: church ladies) who will frequently vote not to convict no matter what. these people pay the toll for our hubris every day, and they clearly are sick of it. the only thing new here is that rich white folks are coming to realize what the church ladies already have.

    I don’t know about your parts, but even mentioning jury nullification in a courtroom is a big no-no. what does that say about how terrified the establishment is of the mob?

  3. Zeb says:

    Here are links to interviews with the creators of the Wire, in which I believe they touch on some of these issues. The interviews are conducted by Marc Steiner, a longtime Baltimore public radio host who was recently fired.

    Ed Burns: http://media.switchpod.com/users/cem/edburnsfinalMP3.mp3

    David Simon: http://media.switchpod.com/users/cem/davidsimonfinalversion.mp3

    Interviews with some of the actors can be found here: http://marcsteinerblog.wordpress.com/cem-productions/

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