The Wire producer: War on drugs is ‘a war on the underclass’

By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, March 10th, 2011 — 7:04 pm

David Simon, the creator and executive producer of HBO’s The Wire, said the war on drugs had devolved into a war on the underclass after actress Felicia Pearson was arrested in Baltimore on drug charges.

Thirty-year-old Pearson had served a prison sentence for murder before join the cast of The Wire, an television drama series about inner-city life in Baltimore that premiered in 2002 and ended five seasons later in 2008.

Pearson and over sixty others were arrested on Thursday as part of a five-month investigation by the DEA and Baltimore police, The Baltimore Sun [1] reported.

“In places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral,” Simon told Slate [2].

“Both our Constitution and our common law guarantee that we will be judged by our peers,” he continued. “But in truth, there are now two Americas, politically and economically distinct. I, for one, do not qualify as a peer to Felicia Pearson. The opportunities and experiences of her life do not correspond in any way with my own, and her America is different from my own. I am therefore ill-equipped to be her judge in this matter.”

In an essay published by TIME [3]magazine in 2008, Simon and other writers for The Wire said the war on drugs caused more harm to society than the drugs it sought to eliminate.

“What the drugs themselves have not destroyed, the warfare against them has,” they wrote. “And what once began, perhaps, as a battle against dangerous substances long ago transformed itself into a venal war on our underclass… All to no purpose. The prison population doubles and doubles again; the drugs remain.”

The writers called on juries deliberating on non-violent violations of drug laws to acquit despite the evidence, a legal tactic known as jury nullification.

Although jury nullification may seem like a far-fetched tactic to stop the drug war, in December 2010 potential jurors refused to convict a Montana man for having a 1/16 of an ounce of marijuana regardless of the evidence.

“I think it’s going to become increasingly difficult to seat a jury in marijuana cases, at least the ones involving a small amount,” District Judge Dusty Deschamps said at the time. He later decided he could not seat a jury and the prosecutor and defense attorney worked out a plea bargain.