Nearly seven years after its final episode, Baltimore crime saga “The Wire” is still as socially relevant as it was upon its release, especially given the still-current unrest in the city the show portrayed. Written by a group of reporters and ex-police officers, the five seasons of “The Wire” examined crime, law enforcement, journalism, education and politics within Baltimore, including attention to detail and sharp social commentary that remain unmatched on television.
Though many shows today rely on twists, action or lavish sets and special effects, “The Wire” relied solely upon its story and character development. Despite often focusing on the politics and stalemates of police work, the series stayed consistently interesting because it gave characters so much depth that it was impossible not to become invested in their stories. By drawing characters from all walks of life, the series was able to examine issues of race, class, crime, media and politics from different viewpoints, and leave the viewer with the tools to look at these issues critically.
Now, more than ever, the issues raised in “The Wire” are tremendously important to examine in Baltimore. While there is the problem of race’s role in justice, or lack thereof, the recent Freddie Gray case draws many other parallels to issues raised in “The Wire.” The manner and timing of the involvement of nearby religious leaders and politicians, especially in the Baltimore controversy, mirrors the responses of those groups in the series and indicates just how in tune with their city the screenwriters were when writing the script to the show.
Though the role of race in aspects of city life was thoroughly explored in “The Wire” , the main focus the series had on the drug trade seems to be largely ignored today. Though Baltimore has received considerable media attention for its role in the nationwide series of racial police brutality controversies, little attention has been given to the city’s crippling drug problem, which has only gotten worse since “The Wire” put it on display in the early 2000s. Baltimore’s struggle with heroin has persisted since the 1950s and it was estimated in 2009 that one in 10 people living in Baltimore were drug addicts.
The problems do not lie just with those who are hooked on heroin, though, as the inner city drug trade is a vicious cycle. The fourth season of “The Wire,” often called the best season of a show to ever air on television, addressed how children are forced into becoming dealers simply by the life they are born into. The establishment of the drug trade in inner city areas causes violence, which drives out businesses and leaves drug dealing as the primary opportunity for employment. While Baltimore’s education system has made marked improvement in the past 10 years, the residual effects of its failures in the past mean that even kids who now have the opportunity to get an education will not necessarily have the support from those around them to follow through and complete school.
Politics have also played a huge role in how the city of Baltimore has dealt with its problems in both “The Wire” and in real life. Politicians looking to get reelected or move up in the ranks often avoid the less glamorous — and more persistent — problems of the city in order to focus on the hot-topic issues that allow them to grandstand and get themselves noticed by members of their political party and by potential voters. In fact, the current mayor of Baltimore, who looks to be groomed for an eventual presidential run, spoke more on controlling police brutality than on any other single issue, even before the riots erupted in her city.
Baltimore’s social problems persisted through five years of “The Wire” and have continued in the seven years after the final episode. While those five seasons displayed the sisyphean nature of Baltimore’s problems, they still contained at least some hope that the problems of the city would improve as long as they were not ignored. More than anything else, “The Wire” shows how its city’s problems run deeper than the death of one man, and the questions raised by the series should not be forgotten simply because Baltimore finally has a news camera pointed at it.