Irony in The Wire


in Films and movies, Law, Politics, Security

Without revealing anything about the major plot developments in this excellent series, I can comment on one thing I realized about The Wire overall, as I was watching the final season. Within the show, it can be broadly said that there are two sorts of police officers – those that are happy to function within the system as it exists and those who aspire to do things differently. The former recognize the political necessity of ‘cracking down on crime,’ no matter how pointless that may be in its ultimate consequences. As such, when some politician needs improved crime statistics, they will happily go round people up for minor offenses and otherwise fudge the numbers until they seem to reflect the promised improvement.

The other set of police officers want to build up comprehensive cases against the leaders of the drug gangs, securing prosecutions against them using surveillance and human intelligence. They see the efforts made to fudge statistics as deeply wasteful. The irony is that their ‘real police work’ actually causes far graver consequences. Every time they remove someone from the top of the pyramid, it generates a bloody contest for dominance among the other high-level agents. The police therefore keep themselves well occupied with murders. Similarly, when people who are imprisoned are eventually released, they are liable to create conflicts. It’s not for nothing that the drug dealers in the show refer to their interactions with the police and with one another as ‘The Game.’

In the end, then, neither form of policing really accomplishes anything overly meaningful. The shoddy policework maintains a churn of people being brought up on minor charges, keeps police officers busy, and helps politicians convince voters they are doing a decent job. The professional policework, meanwhile, helps perpetuate the large-scale violence between and within drug organizations.

Given the degree of realism in the show, it does not seem inconceivable that dynamics of this sort operate in the real world, at least in those places that continue to see prohibition as the proper response to the problem of illicit drugs. As I have expressed here before, that seems a wrongheaded approach to me. It would be far better to undercut the violence of the drug trade by making it legal and controlled, akin to alcohol and tobacco, while simultaneously treating drug addiction as an illness requiring treatment and not a crime requiring deterrence and punishment.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Betsy April 6, 2010 at 10:46 pm

one word: hamsterdam

. April 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm

“The laws of economics dictate that narcotics will continue to flow into the United States. The mission of the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations and the larger cartels they form is to attempt to control as much of that flow as they can. The people who run the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations are businessmen. Historically, their primary objective is to move their product (narcotics) without being caught and to make a lot of money in the process. The Mexican drug lords have traditionally attempted to conduct this business quietly, efficiently and with the least amount of friction.

When there is a kind of competitive business balance among these various organizations, a sort of detente prevails and there is relative peace. We say relative, because there has always been a level of tension and some level of violence among these organizations, but during times of balance the violence is kept in check for business reasons.

During times of balance, the territorial boundaries are well-established, the smuggling corridors are secure, the drugs flow and the people make money. When that balance is lost and an organization is weakened — especially an organization that controls one or more valuable smuggling corridors — a vicious fight can develop as other organizations move in and try to exert control over the territory and as the incumbent organization attempts to fight them off and retain control of its turf. Smuggling corridors are geographically significant places along the narcotics supply chain where the product is channeled — places such as ports, airstrips, significant highways and border crossings. Control of these significant channels (often referred to as “plazas” by the drug-trafficking organizations) is very important to an organization’s ability to move contraband. If it doesn’t control a corridor it wants to use, it must pay the organization that does control it.”

Milan July 13, 2010 at 4:17 pm

This story, about a fictitious newspaper story entitled ‘Jimmy’s World’ may well have been partial inspiration for the fifth season of The Wire.

TITLE: Post Reporter’s Pulitzer Prize Is Withdrawn;
Pulitzer Board Withdraws Post Reporter’s Prize [excerpts]

April 16, 1981, Thursday, Final Edition

BYLINE: By David A. Maraniss, Washington Post Staff Writer

. August 6, 2015 at 7:43 pm

“The Sinaloa cartel is sometimes described as a “cellular” organization. Structurally, its network is distributed, and has more in common with a terrorist organization like Al Qaeda than with the antiquated hierarchies of the Cosa Nostra. When the cartel suffers the loss of a major figure like El Chino Ántrax, it can reconstitute itself—but not without a few phone calls among the leadership. At the D.E.A., which taps hundreds of phone lines and e-mail accounts associated with traffickers, the process of applying pressure to a criminal organization and then monitoring furtive attempts at outreach is known as “tickling the wires.””

. May 30, 2017 at 11:33 pm

The prospect of mastery is the main appeal that the Ring holds for those who come in contact with it. The Ring appears as a symbol of hope, offering the power to defeat Sauron and bring peace to the world. Yet in the end, its inherent malevolence would twist its bearer into another Dark Lord as evil as Sauron, regardless of one’s intentions at the outset.

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