America And Baltimore’s Anguish – David Simon

The Wire creator David Simon in Baltimore

Back in 2013, David Simon, creator of The Wire, gave this speech in Australia. It is very long, so I will just include a number  (a lot)  of paragraphs. If you have the time however, it really is a must read.

America is a country that is now utterly divided when it comes to its society, its economy, its politics. There are definitely two Americas. I live in one, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it. About 20 blocks away is another America entirely. It’s astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity…

You know if you’ve read Capital or if you’ve got the Cliff Notes, you know that his imaginings of how classical Marxism – of how his logic would work when applied – kind of devolve into such nonsense as the withering away of the state and platitudes like that. But he was really sharp about what goes wrong when capital wins unequivocally, when it gets everything it asks for…

And that notion that capital is the metric, that profit is the metric by which we’re going to measure the health of our society is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years. I would date it in my country to about 1980 exactly, and it has triumphed…

He talks about what happened after the Second World War.

It took a working class that had no discretionary income at the beginning of the century, which was working on subsistence wages. It turned it into a consumer class that not only had money to buy all the stuff that they needed to live but enough to buy a bunch of shit that they wanted but didn’t need, and that was the engine that drove us.

It wasn’t just that we could supply stuff, or that we had the factories or know-how or capital, it was that we created our own demand and started exporting that demand throughout the west. And the standard of living made it possible to manufacture stuff at an incredible rate and sell it.

And how did we do that? We did that by not giving in to either side. That was the new deal. That was the great society. That was all of that argument about collective bargaining and union wages and it was an argument that meant neither side gets to win…

Ultimately we abandoned that and believed in the idea of trickle-down and the idea of the market economy and the market knows best, to the point where now libertarianism in my country is actually being taken seriously as an intelligent mode of political thought. It’s astonishing to me. But it is. People are saying I don’t need anything but my own ability to earn a profit. I’m not connected to society. I don’t care how the road got built, I don’t care where the firefighter comes from, I don’t care who educates the kids other than my kids. I am me. It’s the triumph of the self. I am me, hear me roar.

That we’ve gotten to this point is astonishing to me because basically in winning its victory, in seeing that Wall come down and seeing the former Stalinist state’s journey towards our way of thinking in terms of markets or being vulnerable, you would have thought that we would have learned what works. Instead we’ve descended into what can only be described as greed. This is just greed. This is an inability to see that we’re all connected, that the idea of two Americas is implausible, or two Australias, or two Spains or two Frances…

And so in my country you’re seeing a horror show. You’re seeing a retrenchment in terms of family income, you’re seeing the abandonment of basic services, such as public education, functional public education. You’re seeing the underclass hunted through an alleged war on dangerous drugs that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, in terms of the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons and the percentage of Americans we put into prisons. No other country on the face of the Earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.

We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share, to even contemplate a socialist impulse…

I’m utterly committed to the idea that capitalism has to be the way we generate mass wealth in the coming century. That argument’s over. But the idea that it’s not going to be married to a social compact, that how you distribute the benefits of capitalism isn’t going to include everyone in the society to a reasonable extent, that’s astonishing to me.

And so capitalism is about to seize defeat from the jaws of victory all by its own hand. That’s the astonishing end of this story, unless we reverse course. Unless we take into consideration, if not the remedies of Marx then the diagnosis, because he saw what would happen if capital triumphed unequivocally, if it got everything it wanted.

And one of the things that capital would want unequivocally and for certain is the diminishment of labour. They would want labour to be diminished because labour’s a cost. And if labour is diminished, let’s translate that: in human terms, it means human beings are worth less…

The idea that the market will solve such things as environmental concerns, as our racial divides, as our class distinctions, our problems with educating and incorporating one generation of workers into the economy after the other when that economy is changing; the idea that the market is going to heed all of the human concerns and still maximise profit is juvenile. It’s a juvenile notion and it’s still being argued in my country passionately and we’re going down the tubes. And it terrifies me because I’m astonished at how comfortable we are in absolving ourselves of what is basically a moral choice. Are we all in this together or are we all not?

If you watched the debacle that was, and is, the fight over something as basic as public health policy in my country over the last couple of years, imagine the ineffectiveness that Americans are going to offer the world when it comes to something really complicated like global warming. We can’t even get healthcare for our citizens on a basic level. And the argument comes down to: “Goddamn this socialist president. Does he think I’m going to pay to keep other people healthy? It’s socialism, motherfucker.”

…That’s the great horror show. What are we going to do with all these people that we’ve managed to marginalise? It was kind of interesting when it was only race, when you could do this on the basis of people’s racial fears and it was just the black and brown people in American cities who had the higher rates of unemployment and the higher rates of addiction and were marginalised and had the shitty school systems and the lack of opportunity.

And kind of interesting in this last recession to see the economy shrug and start to throw white middle-class people into the same boat, so that they became vulnerable to the drug war, say from methamphetamine, or they became unable to qualify for college loans. And all of a sudden a certain faith in the economic engine and the economic authority of Wall Street and market logic started to fall away from people. And they realised it’s not just about race, it’s about something even more terrifying. It’s about class. Are you at the top of the wave or are you at the bottom?

…So how does it get better? In 1932, it got better because they dealt the cards again and there was a communal logic that said nobody’s going to get left behind. We’re going to figure this out. We’re going to get the banks open. From the depths of that depression a social compact was made between worker, between labour and capital that actually allowed people to have some hope.

We’re either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we’re going to keep going the way we’re going, at which point there’s going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody’s going to pick up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there’s always the brick. I hope we go for the first option but I’m losing faith.

That brick has been thrown I’m afraid.

The other thing that was there in 1932 that isn’t there now is that some element of the popular will could be expressed through the electoral process in my country.

The last job of capitalism – having won all the battles against labour, having acquired the ultimate authority, almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea or what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not – the last journey for capital in my country has been to buy the electoral process, the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.

brick

I must admit that that article blew me away. And then I found this one that was published today. David goes into very lengthy detail into how the Baltimore police force has evolved. Basically, Martin O’Malley became Mayor, and he wanted to become Governor. He wanted to be seen as winning the drug war and reducing crime in Baltimore. So, he cooked the books and the police were free to to pick up anyone for looking at them cross-eyed.

Then at some point when cocaine hit and the city lost control of a lot of corners and the violence was ratcheted up, there was a real panic on the part of the government. And they basically decided that even that loose idea of what the Fourth Amendment was supposed to mean on a street level, even that was too much. Now all bets were off. Now you didn’t even need probable cause. The city council actually passed an ordinance that declared a certain amount of real estate to be drug-free zones. They literally declared maybe a quarter to a third of inner city Baltimore off-limits to its residents, and said that if you were loitering in those areas you were subject to arrest and search. Think about that for a moment: It was a permission for the police to become truly random and arbitrary and to clear streets any way they damn well wanted…

What the drug war did, though, was make this all a function of social control. This was simply about keeping the poor down, and that war footing has been an excuse for everybody to operate outside the realm of procedure and law. And the city willingly and legally gave itself over to that, beginning with the drug-free zones and with the misuse of what are known on the street in the previous generation as ‘humbles.’ A humble is a cheap, inconsequential arrest that nonetheless gives the guy a night or two in jail before he sees a court commissioner. You can arrest people on “failure to obey,” it’s a humble. Loitering is a humble. These things were used by police officers going back to the ‘60s in Baltimore. It’s the ultimate recourse for a cop who doesn’t like somebody who’s looking at him the wrong way. And yet, back in the day, there was, I think, more of a code to it. If you were on a corner, you knew certain things would catch you a humble…

Originally, early in his tenure, O’Malley brought Ed Norris in as commissioner and Ed knew his business. He’d been a criminal investigator and commander in New York and he knew police work. And so, for a time, real crime suppression and good retroactive investigation was emphasized, and for the Baltimore department, it was kind of like a fat man going on a diet. Just leave the French fries on the plate and you lose the first ten pounds. The initial crime reductions in Baltimore under O’Malley were legit and O’Malley deserved some credit.

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 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…

Now, the mass arrests made clear, we can lock up anybody, we don’t have to figure out who’s committing crimes, we don’t have to investigate anything, we just gather all the bodies — everybody goes to jail. And yet people were scared enough of crime in those years that O’Malley had his supporters for this policy, council members and community leaders who thought, They’re all just thugs.

But they weren’t. They were anybody who was slow to clear the sidewalk or who stayed seated on their front stoop for too long when an officer tried to roust them. Schoolteachers, Johns Hopkins employees, film crew people, kids, retirees, everybody went to the city jail. If you think I’m exaggerating look it up. It was an amazing performance by the city’s mayor and his administration…

It used to be said — correctly — that the patrolman on the beat on any American police force was the last perfect tyranny. Absent a herd of reliable witnesses, there were things he could do to deny you your freedom or kick your ass that were between him, you, and the street. The smartphone with its small, digital camera, is a revolution in civil liberties…

In these drug-saturated neighborhoods, they weren’t policing their post anymore, they weren’t policing real estate that they were protecting from crime. They weren’t nurturing informants, or learning how to properly investigate anything. There’s a real skill set to good police work. But no, they were just dragging the sidewalks, hunting stats, and these inner-city neighborhoods — which were indeed drug-saturated because that’s the only industry left — become just hunting grounds. They weren’t protecting anything. They weren’t serving anyone. They were collecting bodies, treating corner folk and citizens alike as an Israeli patrol would treat the West Bank, or as the Afrikaners would have treated Soweto back in the day. They’re an army of occupation. And once it’s that, then everybody’s the enemy. The police aren’t looking to make friends, or informants, or learning how to write clean warrants or how to testify in court without perjuring themselves unnecessarily…

I don’t want to steal the entire article, but if you are interested in exactly how the Baltimore PD felt free to kill Freddie Gray, please go read it and spread it far and wide.

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11 Responses to America And Baltimore’s Anguish – David Simon

  1. lindak1961 says:

    Long post, but spot on – sadly. A side effect of the Baltimore riots is that I think that O’Malley’s presidential bid is now toast.

    • irishgirl999 says:

      Thanks for taking the time to read it. My jaw was on the floor reading the second article. I don’t think O’Malley can recover from that – and he shouldn’t. What he did was atrocious.

  2. 40Watt says:

    More from Ed Norris – http://www.businessinsider.com/a-former-baltimore-police-commissioner-blasted-the-decision-to-impose-a-curfew-on-city-residents-2015-4

    Yes, a lot of this has been known and forgotten. That’s how it goes…always forgotten until something happens that forces us to pay attention again. And the people who understand least are the one’s who are always talking about the Constitution, the one with the amendment that reads:

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  3. irishgirl999 says:

    David Simon on his blog. Answering questions.
    http://davidsimon.com/baltimore/

    • 40Watt says:

      Who has a stake in NOT ending the war on drugs? Apart from the cartels that is and the Correctional Corporation of America (CCA) and Wackenhut, which together control 75% of the prison “business”, and let’s not forget the banks:

      “The drug trade is overwhelming in terms of how that money finds paths—like water — to come into the global financial system,” Beer continues.

      HSBC wasn’t the first or last bank money-laundering scandal.

      In 2010, prosecutors detailed how Wachovia Bank had been used by Mexican currency exchange houses to launder at least $110 million in drug profits.

      In 2012, The Wall Street Journal reported on an FBI affidavit that laid out how the Zetas Cartel used Bank of America to launder cash through a racehorse operation in Texas.

      http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2014/03/20/291934724/awash-in-cash-drug-cartels-rely-on-big-banks-to-launder-profits

      I have no doubt the list goes on.

  4. ProfessorCanine says:

    “(NNPA) — The new highly-acclaimed motion picture ”Selma” suggests that former President Lyndon Baines Johnson was not an ardent supporter of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and that he and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a less than fragile relationship. Nothing is farther from the truth. Both men worked very hard to create a society in which all people have the right to vote, access to medical care, decent housing and funding for education.”
    http://baltimoretimes-online.com/news/2015/jan/22/king-and-lbj-stood-together/
    Please note the author of the above article:
    Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson was elected to her twelfth term to Congress with 88% of the vote from the 30th Congressional District of Texas.
    http://ebjohnson.house.gov/about/full-biography

    The director of “Selma” Ava DuVernay ,and Oprah Winfrey the producer,can kiss my ass for going all “Hollywood” on such an important part of this countries history.

  5. 40Watt says:

    Baltimore rioter held on $500,000 bail as parents say: ‘We wanted him to do the right thing’

    The 18-year-old pictured smashing a police car with a traffic cone, in one of the defining images of the Baltimore riots, is being held on half a million dollars’ bail and may face years in jail after his stepfather persuaded him to turn himself in to authorities.

    Allen Bullock was charged with eight criminal counts, including rioting and malicious destruction of property, after arriving at Baltimore’s juvenile justice centre with his stepfather, Maurice Hawkins, who said he saw television footage of Bullock’s actions on Saturday.

    http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/apr/30/baltimore-rioters-parents-500000-bail-allen-bullock

    There are no words.

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