Tuesday, January 28, 2020
The Wire is a show about institutions, the people trapped inside of them, and a society made static by their inaction, indifference, and ineptitude. Whether the series was exploring the drug trade, police departments, city hall, unions, or public schools, the individual actors within those systems were depicted as having little control over either the institutions or their individual fates within them. As a result, the constituencies supposedly served by those institutions continually got the shaft.
To say that The Wire is about the tolls of unmitigated capitalism and inflexible bureaucracies is not to say, however, that the show is silent on, or indifferent to, the criminal justice system that encompasses its main characters. I became especially intrigued by an episode in the first season in which police and prosecutors rely on the testimony of Omar Little in a murder trial, despite doubts about Omar’s first-hand knowledge of the crime. This essay is a reflection on the depiction of law enforcement in The Wire, both generally and with respect to the single scene that first made me a Wire addict.