Be More Careful

Alyssa is watching Homicide, and comparing it's racial politics, with The Wire's:

In Homicide (at least in the first season), crime is mostly an amateur activity, one that can be, and is, undertaken by black and white people alike.  In the initial shot of the prisoner holding tank in the show's debut episode, the suspects include two black men and a white woman.  The first three murderers to be arrested in that episode, "Gone for Goode," are all white men.  In the second episode, "Ghost of a Chance," one of the investigations focuses on the humorized murder of an older white man by his wife (also white), seen polishing silver in a knit suit; another white suspect is apprehended after the detectives in the case consult a ghost and tarot cards.  In "Son of a Gun," aired third, a white woman hires a hit man to kill a coworker in an argument over whether Spiro Agnew deserves a bust in the Capitol.  Of course, black people commit murder, or try to, on the show too, and their crimes are less likely to be portrayed in a humorous light.  A black man shoots and blinds a police officer; another is suspected of raping and murdering a young girl.  In Homicide, murder knows no limitations based on class, or race, or gender...

In the world of The Wire, the crime we see is professionalized, and is committed largely by black people.  That's in part because the show focuses on an investigative crime unit, and on the drug crews it targets, but when the show ventures into the Homicide division in general, it's clear that most killings can be traced in some ways to those crews, whether it's the murder of a state's witness, of a drug kingpin's obsessive girl, or of a club owner turned double agent.  The murders are rarely ever funny anymore, randomness has vanished from this category of crime, which is no longer about human passion and irrationality, but rather about money.  There are white criminals on the show, of course, but like Nick and Ziggy in the show's second season, they're incompetent posers, or like The Greek, they are conspiratorial forces more than they are human, operating far above the street and the actual hands-on commission of crime.  The vast majority of The Wire's criminals and victims are African-American. 

One of the reason why Season Two is my favorite is because of the "Oh, you thought this was just the niggers?" vibe. I love the stories--Omar and Brother Muzone, String and Avon falling apart. I loved the whole Sobatka clan. But I thought the decision to shift the cast from Season One to the back-burner, and look at the drug war in a much broader context was courageous, and important.

More than that, it was true to Baltimore. One of the problems of our intellectual class is that they're disproportionately headquartered in Manhattan and Washington--two places where the white poor and white working class either have left, or never existed. But when I was growing up in Baltimore, just like they're were black neighborhoods where white kids didn't go (Walbrook Junction, North and Pulaski), there were white neighborhoods where we didn't go (Hampden, Pigtown.)

Black people were still disproportionately poor, and still involved with a disproportionate amount of violent crime. But no one who's looked at drugs in Baltimore could draw an accurate picture and ignore whites in the city.