Talk about a watch party.
President Obama really likes “The Wire” – so much so that he invited the show’s creator, David Simon, to come talk about it with him at The White House. Right off the bat, Obama calls Simon’s creation “one of the greatest, not just television shows, but pieces of art in the last couple of decades.” And while the Obama does not shy away from praising the show or his favorite character, Omar, the sit-down also exposes many of the show’s deeper truths about America’s culture of incarceration and the war on drugs.
“The Wire” focuses in part on the Baltimore drug scene and depicts the lives dealers, users, and law enforcement. And while it is technically fiction, Simon’s own experience as a police reporter steeps the story lines in reality.
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That realism is not lost on Obama, whose outgoing Attorney General, Eric Holder, has pushed to reform mandatory minimum sentencing laws. In August 2013 Holder spoke about “a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality, and incarceration” that “traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities.”
“The Wire” not only displays this cycle, but Simon sees those caught in the tide of incarceration as “permanently part of the Other America.”
“Right now,” Simon says, “what drugs don’t destroy, the war against them is ripping apart.” Obama noted that piece of the problem is families. “Part of what [“The Wire”] depicted though is also that…there’s a generational element to this. So you’ve got entire generations of men being locked up. which means entire generations of boys growing up either without a father or, if they see their dad, they’re seeing him in prison.”
Simon told Obama that during his time as a police reporter he saw a trend toward “less violent people, getting more violent sentences” and that these people “come back out completely tarred.” Obama agreed, echoing concerns that those incarcerated end up continuously “looping” back into the prison system and that many of those incarcerations are “disproportionately African-American.”
According to a Sentencing Project report, 1 in every 3 black males will go to prison in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 6 for Latinos and 1 in 17 for white males. University of Chicago economists Derek Neal and Armin Rick found that incarceration rates among black and white men have been increasing since 1980. Moreover, they found that due to high turnover rates among prison population “more than 10% of prime age black men will serve some time in prison or jail during a given calendar year.”
Watch the rest of the interview, here.