The Wire creator and showrunner David Simon blames Baltimore’s politically ambitious former mayor, Martin O’Malley, for destroying the credibility of the city’s police department, which has come into national focus after Freddie Gray died in police custody.
Maryland prosecutor Marilyn J. Mosby announced today that six Baltimore cops will face charges ranging from misconduct to homicide in connection with the events that led to the death of Gray, a 25-year-old African American.
Simon, a foe of the war on drugs, also claims that the ex-mayor’s administration threw due process out the window through mass arrests and also cooked the books about the city’s actual crime rate.
According to a prominent O’Malley supporter, however, “It was a different time and different tactics had to be used. At that time our city was getting out of control. We had zero tolerance and at that time we needed it.”
Based in Baltimore, The Wire was an urban corruption and crime drama that ran on HBO for five seasons through March of 2008, and developed a cult following.
The fictional politician Tommy Carcetti in The Wire was inspired in part by O’Malley, who was no fan of the show.
“O’Malley’s tenure was as destructive a mayoralty to causes of crime and punishment as Baltimore has ever seen and, by that standard, Tommy Carcetti makes him look good,” Simon said, according to the The Daily Beast.
O’Malley, a liberal Democrat who has been hinting at challenging Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination, was a two-term mayor of Baltimore (1999 to 2007) who went on to serve as Maryland’s governor from 2007 to 2015. His handpicked successor, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, considered a lock for the job, lost in an upset to GOP challenger Larry Hogan in the 2014 general election, however.
According to the Washington Post, given the recent civil disturbance, O’Malley’s legacy in West Baltimore where he visited this week and was heckled by some neighborhood residents, could undermine his bid for the White House. Democrats have been in charge in Baltimore since 1967.
“[T]he unrest has given critics of O’Malley’s aggressive policing strategy a fresh platform to blame him for some of the deep-seated mistrust between the city’s police and the poor communities, more than eight years after he left the mayor’s office.”
A former Baltimore Sun crime reporter, Simon conceded that he would vote for O’Malley for president should he get the Democrat nomination. In an interview with The Marshall Project this week, Simon nonetheless explained that he disagreed with the way O’Malley interfered with inner-city policing, which subsequently prompted an ACLU lawsuit.
“The drug war began it, certainly, but the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was Martin O’Malley. He destroyed police work in some real respects. Whatever was left of it when he took over the police department, if there were two bricks together that were the suggestion of an edifice that you could have called meaningful police work, he found a way to pull them apart…what happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor. And at a certain point, with the crime rate high and with his promises of a reduced crime rate on the line, he put no faith in real policing…”
Simon conceded that at first, the reduction in Baltimore crime under O’Malley was on the level. But that changed.
“But that wasn’t enough. O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation. And so there were people from City Hall who walked over [commissioner Ed] Norris and made it clear to the district commanders that crime was going to fall by some astonishing rates. Eventually, Norris got fed up with the interference from City Hall and walked, and then more malleable police commissioners followed, until indeed, the crime rate fell dramatically. On paper…”
On his blog this week, while expressing support for the Freddie Gray protests against police misconduct, David Simon called for the Baltimore rioters to go home and that “the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease.”
As far as the Freddie Gray situation, The Wire creator Simon claimed in the interview that there was no probable cause in the Freddie Gray arrest, and that his death may have been the result of “too many officers who came up in a culture that taught them not the hard job of policing, but simply how to roam the city, jack everyone up, and call for the wagon.”
Based on his reporting for the 1997 book The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, David Simon parenthetically added that “it became clear that the most brutal cops in our sector of the Western District were black. The guys who would really kick your ass without thinking twice were black officers. If I had to guess and put a name on it, I’d say that at some point, the drug war was as much a function of class and social control as it was of racism.”
[Martin O’Malley photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images News]