NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – CBS2 is taking on the hard question: Where does the conversation about race go from here?
CBS2’s Maurice DuBois spoke with David Simon, former journalist, author and creator of hit TV shows, about policing and the war on drugs.
“I think the demonstrations are necessary,” Simon said.
Simon has spent most of his career writing about police in urban America, including 15 years as a reporter at the Baltimore Sun.
“I want to start here David with your take on what’s going on right now in society, people in the streets, more police killings it seems by the week. What are you seeing?” asked DuBois.
“The thing that has changed in a profound way and necessarily for the better is the power of the cell phone, of the smart phone, with its camera, with its video camera,” said Simon. “The fact that everyone has one. The city is awash in visual imagery, in an immediate agency.”
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Simon is best known for creating the hit HBO TV series “The Wire,” a drama about drugs plaguing Baltimore’s neighborhoods that’s told from the perspectives of the cops and drug dealers. Simon believes the war on drugs is at the root of the problems we’re facing today and it leads police to arrest Black and brown men for petty crimes and minor offenses.
“A lot of people are saying you know what, people of color and poor people are being over-policed,” said Simon.
“To the people who say look, drugs are destroying African-American and Latino communities across the country, you’re almost saying it’s a victimless crime. What do you mean by that?” asked DuBois.
“It absolutely is a victimless crime. It’s a medical condition,” said Simon. “The drug war is effectively a war on the poor. It’s a means of using social control on people of color and people in poverty by the ruling class. That’s all it has ever been. I’m not here to defend drugs. Drugs do an inordinate amount of damage.”
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“Where does one begin to attack this at a societal, at a policy level? How do you get at this?” asked DuBois.
“Most Americans, you know, it’s not just our politicians, we’ve asked them to be tough on crime,” said Simon. “We’ve asked them to be tough on drugs. It feels good to us, the notion that we can stop this stuff at the border or that we don’t have to treat it like a health concern that it is, that we can arrest our way out of the problem. That feels good.”
“How much of a role in the greater culture does TV play here? These cop shows, two of which were just cancelled,” said DuBois.
“You’re asking somebody who did among other things he’s done, I did a cop show,” said Simon.
“A little different,” said DuBois.
“Well, thank you. I had great fun taking a flame thrower to the idea of the police as being in any remote way the solution to what the problem was,” said Simon. “‘The Wire’ was intended, and I hope we executed well enough, as a critique of the actual mission of the drug war.”
“Where does the change begin, what does the change look like?” asked DuBois.
“Well, the change has to be the voters start asking for the right things. They start demanding from their district attorneys and their state’s attorneys and their mayors and their county executives the arrest rates for real crime,” said Simon.
“Police are good at one thing. They’re not good at social work. They’re not good at, they’re not good at running community basketball leagues. We can hire people to do those things. Police are good at one thing: They’re good at taking out the trash. And by that I mean the one guy who’s making their post, or their district, or their sector untenable. The guy who’s shooting people, guy who’s raping people, the guy who’s burglarizing churches, the guy’s who’s robbing corner liquor stores. Find out who that guy is and arrest that guy,” he added.
“What do you say to those Americans who are sitting back waiting for this thing to wash over?” asked DuBois.
“It’s only going to get worse. The incidents are not going to disappear. The cameras are not going to go away and we’re going to be confronted by what we’ve created time and time again until we transform the mission,” said Simon.
Simon also said some of the money from police budgets could be used for other programs. He adds that Baltimore, where he lives, hasn’t been properly policed in two generations and crime has actually increased.