President Obama has made no secret of the fact that he is a huge fan of the series The Wire and that his favorite character is the Robin Hood-esque Omar. In a recent interview with its creator, David Simon, the president took the cable network's "It's not television; it's HBO" tagline to a new height when he gushed that The Wire is not just one of the greatest television shows, but one of the greatest "pieces of art in the last couple of decades."
In a different twist, Obama led the discussion during his sit down with Simon, a former police reporter from Baltimore. Charm City was the setting of the gritty series, which centered on the so-called War on Drugs from the perspectives of both the dealers and the police. And like many aspects of life, the impact of the effort to reduce drug use and related crimes also has two sides.
Most big cities have seen a reduction in violent crime, but "a consequence of that was this massive trend toward incarceration, even of nonviolent drug offenders," Obama noted, and an "explosion of incarcerations – disproportionately African-American and Latino."
The good news, the president added, is that politicians on both the right and the left understand the high cost of treating violent and nonviolent drug crimes the same and that the tax dollars would be better spent on education. He said that he and Attorney General Eric Holder have encouraged U.S. attorneys to think about justice and be more proportional in the way they mete it out.
"One of the things we tried to do is to change how we talk to U.S. attorneys and their offices about what is a measure of effective prosecution. And when we came into office I think what was probably true in a lot of states' attorneys' office, the measure was how much time do they get. Charge the max," Obama said. "And our point was effectiveness as a prosecutor involves thinking about justice and being proportional in how you think about these issues. And that’s something we can do administratively. But ultimately we’re going to need legislation, and that’s where raising awareness is going to be important. And law enforcement and prosecutors have to be able to talk about this."
It is important to "humanize those involved in the drug trade," the president added, as Simon did in The Wire, and at the same time, remember that the police have "got a scary, tough, difficult job."
Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.
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(Photo: The White House)