The Wire got it backwards

My Baltimore friends who had seen the show also believed, given the police violence in their town, that The Wire‘s view of Baltimore’s finest was almost comically kind. The one policeman who accidentally shoots someone (a fellow officer) not only isn’t prosecuted but gets reintroduced later in the series as a big-hearted public school teacher. And then other people just said to me that living in Baltimore was a struggle and the idea of anyone making commerce out of their pain was simply not their idea of entertainment.

That is Dave Zirin in The Nation. I have to agree. The more I’ve been reading lately the more broken and discriminatory the policing seems to be. I don’t think this is a story of a few bad cops and many good ones, but rather normal people in a perverted system that brings out their bad.

This article by Emily Badger in WashPo doesn’t say it outright, but for lower class black Americans, this country basically looks like a failed state.

Some books and articles I recommend:

  1. Vesla Weaver’s book, Arrested Citizenship, or her shorter Boston Review article on the criminal justice system
  2. Alice Goffman’s amazing ethnography of a Philadelphia neighborhood, On The Run
  3. Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside, on murder and policing in Watts LA
  4. Mark Kleiman’s When Brute Force Fails, on the behavioral perversities of criminal justice
  5. The Harper High School episodes of This American life

With one exception, these have all been written by white people. And I would bet all fall in the category of reading The New Yorker and find Starbucks lowbrow. While I am myself in that category (well, I’m actually sick of The New Yorker) I would appreciate pointers to the best of the best books and essays by another race and class.

11 thoughts on “The Wire got it backwards

  1. I thought for a second that I had a recommendation to contribute! Alas, upon looking at the author’s profile – white and Ivy League-educated to boot. But then it’s no surprise that journalism, literary nonfiction, and publishing are still dominated by traditional elites…kind of hammers home the point of there being different realities based on where (and whom) you come from.

    (In case it’s of interest, the book I thought of was Jeff Hobbs’ ‘The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League’)

  2. I would highly recommend Matt Taibbis excellent book on the subject. “Divide-American injustice in the age of the wealth gap”

  3. Men We Reaped, by Jesmyn Ward, and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson are both absolutely stellar. I call Just Mercy the most expensive book I ever read because after reading it I had to make a substantial donation to Stevenson’s criminal justice group.

  4. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. Written by Michelle Alexander, previous graduate as well as professor of Stanford Law. In March, the book won the 2011 NAACP Image Award for best nonfiction.

  5. “The Stickup Kids” by Randol Contreras, a Hispanic-American born and raised in the Bronx, a former “stick-up kid” himself, and now a sociologist at U Toronto.

  6. Now at least 30 years old and long out of print, but Thomas Geoghegan’s “Which side are you on?” is still worth reading. Best book ever about what happpens to the working class and working class neiighborhoods when unionized jobs disappear. His focus is South Chicago and why unions are so powerless and why/how labor got abandoned by the Dem party. Labor is the canary in the mineshaft where America’s working class works. When the canary died, Baltimore was next.

  7. There is the excellent book by the sociologist Peter Moskos, Cop in the Hood: My Year Policing Baltimore’s Eastern District.

  8. Not sure what you’re looking for – insider accounts and analysis at the intersection of race and criminal justice? I discount Peter Moskos. His insider access seems well represented in the media. He rationalizes policework way too much.

    I suppose you’re looking for more than leading scholars like Elijah Anderson and William Julius Wilson in sociology or Claude Steele and Lawrence Bobo in social psych.

    Noel Cazenave has done some remarkable research on community action as a backdrop to urban resistance. Sudhir Venkatesh work on gangs is itself an interesting intersectionality. There are younger academics – Katheryn Russell-Brown, Tina G. Patel, Shaun L. Gabbidon, or Rashawn Ray are voices that talk back to conventional views that want to see the race and criminal justice as “a complex amalgam of good intentions, unintended consequences, and mission creep” to borrow John McWhorter’s take on what the War on Drugs is all about.

    But criminology, especially the kind emanating from criminal justice, is less welcoming to even the Starbucks and New Yorker crowd.