Category Archives: The Wire

Notes on Brick City: Part 1 and 2.

(by Kiana, x-posted from ProperTalks)

Sundance’s Brick City is the only reality TV show worth watching this week. The street soldiers, sheroes and heroes of Newark New Jersey along with Mayor Cory Booker are all attempting to renew Newark’s urban landscape but they are up against the city’s infamous reputation, earned mostly with blood and corruption.

The spirit of Newark is rough but Brick City wins because it doesn’t romanticize or demonize Newark and its people. Comparisons to The Wire are inevitable but I think Brick City will appeal to the people who thought The Wire was too raw. The irony of that is laughable since The Wire was a drama and Brick City isn’t scripted, but the miniseries is a tamed version of David Simon’s masterpiece.

There is violence (a 10 year old is shot and killed in his neighborhood in part one), there is incredible pain, which leads to frustration, but there is also a sense of optimism that I rarely saw in The Wire.

The two clear standouts of Brick City are Mayor Booker and ex-Blood, Jayda, who is in love with an ex-Crip and pregnant with her second child.

Mayor Booker hammers over and over again his message that Newark leads the nation in crime reduction. We see him navigating two worlds, the ghettos and city hall, but he seems out of place in both settings even as he’s embraced almost everywhere he goes.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

He usually dresses down, in gym clothes, when he rides around the more dilapidated sections of Newark, talking to teenagers and offering corner boys jobs. These street images of Booker are juxtaposed with scenes of him draped in suit and tie, delivering fiery speeches to a room full of police officers or local politicians and potential donors.

I think there should be more Mayor Bookers in the world but there is a part of me that is skeptical of the motives of any politician, though I wouldn’t go as far as Amiri Baraka and refer to Booker as a “white racist Negro.” I don’t want to negate the needed work Booker is doing in Newark but you’d be a fool to ignore how Brick City will set the mayor up for higher political ground whenever he’s ready. The show is simmering with potential campaign slogans. It will be interesting to see Newark’s future when Mayor Booker leaves someday. Only time will tell if the “bricks” he lays now will withstand the realities of the city.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Mayor Booker is the anchor of Brick City but Jayda and some of the other ex-gang members are the heart and substance of the show. I could watch a spinoff show featuring Jayda any day.

I’m touched by her struggle because I realize that my life could have easily been hers if my parents were bringing home a smaller check, if my parents didn’t have the time or will to parent, or if I decided to emulate some of the behavior of the girls I ate lunch with in high school.

I’m not nearly as tough as Jayda but I see her in so many of the young girls I work with today. They have tongues that can cut – sometimes they might just cut you – but they also have endless potential when they are focused and surrounded by wiser heads. The shows creators attempt to portray Jayda and her boyfriend Creep’s story as a ghetto Romeo and Juliet, but Jayda is so damn common it’s a wonder no one has thought to highlight a story like hers before.

These stories can be replicated in cities throughout America; if Sundance was smart they’d turn this into something bigger than Newark.

Drug Decriminalization and Racial Inequality in Pop Culture.


Our homie Jeremy Levine wrote a paper for one of his doctoral courses called “Social Structure and Culture in the Study of Race and Urban Poverty” (which is led by the eminent sociologist, William Julius Wilson) that became a post over on his dope blog, Social Science Lite. He was gracious enough to let us cross-post it here.

Mass incarceration, particularly of black and brown folks, is a hot topic in the social sciences. Hell, it’s a hot topic in nearly every poor, marginalized, urban community of color. Harvard sociologist Bruce Western offers some of the best academic analysis of the carceral state in Punishment and Inequality in America. Western brilliantly details the absurd cost of our contemporary prison system as well as the significant toll incarceration has had on poor communities of color. True unemployment rates are hidden in the “non-economic institution” of the prison, as labor statistics ignore the very existence of prisoners. So, while black male unemployment reached an astounding 17.2% in April of this year, the true percent of unemployed black males is much higher, thanks in part to racial discrimination in the criminal justice system. It’s common knowledge at this point that blacks are more likely to be charged, more likely to be convicted, and more likely to receive longer sentences than whites.

Leaving prison produces even more hardship. After incarceration, men become “permanent labor market outsiders,” as their job prospects are reduced to unstable (if any) employment. Not surprisingly, these outcomes are racialized. Princeton sociologist Devah Pager conducted a fascinating study (“The Mark of a Criminal Record”) in which she sent black and white job candidates with nearly identical resumes to apply for low-level jobs. The results illustrated profound racial discrimination, as black candidates with criminal records were far less likely to receive callbacks for jobs than whites with criminal records. But that wasn’t all; in fact, black candidates without a criminal record were still less likely to receive a callback than whites with a criminal record. Her results suggest that there may be some sort of racial stigma attached to criminal behavior—a racial stereotype that all blacks are perceived as potential criminal offenders.

To combat these inequalities that are decimating urban communities and fragmenting families of color, Bruce Western offers two policy suggestions: decriminalize marijuana and eliminate parole violations for failing drugs tests. His suggestion to decriminalize drug offenses certainly comes at an apt moment in our local history. Given the current political climate in the state of Massachusetts—fresh off a 65% vote in favor of the decriminalization of marijuana—and The Wall Street Journal’s recent report that Obama’s new drug czar wants to “end the ‘War on Drugs,'” Western’s policy suggestion may prove feasible in the coming years. Hell, even the right wingers are on board. Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey recently offered a glowing review on his website of High: The True Tale of American Marijuana, a new DVD advocating the legalization of marijuana. Judging from the blog post’s comments, advocates for decriminalization may find allies among the nation’s right wing base. Growing Libertarian leanings within the Republican Party only add credence to this shift.

So far, so good, right? More…

Weekend Endorsements: Old TV Shows, Torture Memos, and Football.

quadmoniker: I’m finally catching up on Homicide: Life on the Street, the NBC drama that ran from 1993 and 1999. Though it’s not The Wire, it’s based on the David Simon book (Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets) and is still pretty good. I’m a little amazed it actually ran on a network. I’ve only seen a few episodes, but so far the hokey network-necessitated sentimentality has been pretty sparse and the cynicism has been pretty steady. They pulled out the best and saddest of the book’s scenes right away, so I don’t know how it gets later on. While I’m at it, I highly recommend going back and reading the book.

slb: Around Wednesday of this week, I suddenly got into K’Naan. First, I watched two parts of an interview about his native Somalia and his take on the issue of Somalian piracy. I found him to be insightful and interesting, so I downloaded his latest album, Troubadour. Two tracks in, I knew he’d be my endorsement this weekend. I have not been able to stop listening to this album for four days. Of the fourteen tracks, there are only three I skip — and that’s very rare for me. From the first cut, “T.I.A.” to the last “People Like Me,” you’ll feel like a tourist riding the city bus through a foreign land, feeling alternately awed and humbled by all the dopeness and devastation you’re witnessing. Or else you’ll feel like a participant in a Dance-a-Thon where the proceeds benefit a fund to establish a Somalian central government. Stand-out tracks: “America” (featuring Mos Def and Chali Tuna), “Somalia,” “Fire in Freetown,” and the aforementioned “T.I.A.”

shanio: This week, I’m endorsing It’s the Chinese YouTube, but better, because video clips aren’t limited to 10 minutes, and it has tons of U.S. shows available. Although I can’t read Chinese, I haven’t had any trouble typing in search terms in English.  So far I’ve watched all 7 seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, the first season of Daria (it’s criminal that that show’s not on DVD) , and I started Justice League yesterday.  The only drawbacks are the Chinese subtitles. And for those of you who want to watch current TV, or every episode of the fantastic Arrested Development, check out It’s a partnership between FOX and NBC and has minimal ads. Between these two sites, I haven’t turned on my TV in months (not that I would, as I haven’t had cable in about a year).

nicholep: Ann Petry began writing short stories while fulfilling her family’s desires that she become a pharmacist. After moving to New York after her marriage, Petry felt compelled to write about the poverty she witnessed in Harlem, resulting in The Street, which landed her the distinction of becoming the first black woman writer with book sales reaching over one million copies.

In the novel, set in 1944, Lutie Johnson works as a live-in nanny and maid, leaving her husband and son behind to take care of themselves as she looks after someone else’s household. Upon discovering her husband’s infidelity, she takes her son and finds an apartment on 116th Street in Harlem and must learn how to survive the poverty, racism, sexism, and violence that has begun to nibble at the edges of her life.  Lutie’s beauty is a threat both to her employer’s wife and to herself. While searching for another career and trying to raise her son the best way she can, Lutie begins to use those same dangerously tempting assets to her advantage, with life-changing results. The delicate but forceful way Petry forces the reader to confront some thorny issues  places this novel among my favorites.

blackink12: It may seem the obvious pick this weekend, but I’m going to spend some time going through the torture memos. I’m steeling myself for the worst. Here’s a brief description from Salon’s Glenn Greenwald: “They are unbelievably ugly and grotesque and conclusively demonstrate the sadistic criminality that consumed our government.”

What’s important to remember, I think, is that the ACLU was particularly tenacious in getting the government to hand over the information. This surprised me. Not because it was the ACLU.  But because they seemingly went about this fight for basic transparency alone, without much assistance from the media or our government. The ACLU deserves our kudos. 

And when I need to cool off from that bout of light reading, I’ll turn to the season finale of VH-1’s For the Love of Ray J on Monday. I just can’t help myself. And I’m placing my bets on Cocktail.

G.D.: John Madden is calling it a career, taking his penchant for increasingly inane but occasionally still-very-enlightening color commentary with him. Yeah, we know the ledge:  a Super Bowl victory as the coach of the Raiders, Tinactin, Turducken. But his cultural import actually  goes much further: the reason football fans can sit rapt as Ron Jaworski breaks down game tape on ESPN is because of Madden’s emphasis on making the details interesting. His lending his imprimatur to the behemoth Madden Football video game franchise  took that even further:  it’s not a stretch to say that the game designers’ penchant for verisimilude has changed the way an entire generation consumes football. (I found myself watching my beloved Eagles play the Giants in the playoffs this year, wanting to change the camera angle because I couldn’t see how deep the safeties were.)  We’re much more sophisticated football fans because of it. Whenever someone (usually a girlfriend) says they don’t understand football, I would always gamely try to explain, before eventually throwing up my hands. “You should just play Madden.”

OMG. Y’all Suck.

How come nobody told us about this?

Life Imitates Art Imitates Life.

The Wire‘s Nerese Campbell, a shrewd and possibly corrupt city councilwoman, was based on Sheila Dixon of Baltimore, who had been dogged by allegations of wrongdoing. On the show, Campbell, like Dixon, eventually became the mayor of Baltimore.

Today, Mayor Dixon was indicted on 12 charges of corruption.

‘He Flips On The Greek/But The Greek Ain’t Even Greek.’

Skillz rhymes a synopsis of all five seasons of ‘The Wire.’ Spoilers, obvs.

David Simon on Colbert.

Vodpod videos no longer available.