David Simon, the creator of the popular Baltimore-based HBO crime-police drama “The Wire,” slammed former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley in an interview on Wednesday for destroying “police work” in the city and setting the stage for tension between the community and law enforcement.
But Simon, a former reporter at The Baltimore Sun, says he would still vote for the Democrat if he wins the party’s 2016 presidential nomination.
O’Malley, who served as mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007 and governor of Maryland from 2007 to 2015, is considering challenging front-runner Hillary Clinton.
“The drug war began it,” Simon told The Marshall Project what caused the breakdown between the community and police. “But the stake through the heart of police procedure in Baltimore was Martin O’Malley.
“He destroyed police work in some real respects. Whatever was left of it when he took over the police department, if there were two bricks together that were the suggestion of an edifice that you could have called meaningful police work, he found a way to pull them apart.”
Simon’s “The Wire,” hailed by many as one of the best dramas ever produced for its bare-bones depiction of crime and policing in Baltimore, has been a staunch advocate of criminal justice reform. His series focused heavily on the back-and-forth between the city’s fictitious city leaders and its police officials over crime statistics. Characters in the series referred to “juking” crime stats to please police commanders, city leaders and, ultimately, the public.
The dynamic Simon depicted on screen played out in the city, he asserts.
“To be honest, what happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor,” Simon said of O’Malley. “And at a certain point, with the crime rate high and with his promises of a reduced crime rate on the line, he put no faith in real policing.”
Simon faulted O’Malley for his emphasis on crime statistics, which he said eventually led to a move away from what’s called “community policing” to a more distant and numbers-based strategy.
Simon said that because of this focus the crime rate did fall “dramatically.”
“On paper,” he added.
He said that the focus on stats caused a rift grew between citizens of Baltimore and the police force because “the department began sweeping the streets of the inner city, taking bodies on ridiculous humbles, mass arrests, sending thousands of people to city jail, hundreds every night, thousands in a month.”
Simon said that some of his crew members and actors on “The Wire” were swept up in such operations, sometimes without having committed a crime.
“Martin O’Malley’s logic was pretty basic,” Simon asserted. “If we clear the streets, they’ll stop shooting at each other. We’ll lower the murder rate because there will be no one on the corners.”
That strategy has culminated in incidents like the one that many believe led to the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Gray, a black man, was arrested April 12 following a foot chase. He allegedly began running from police for no clear reason and was found with a switch blade. At some point after his arrest, Gray allegedly suffered a broken spine and died the next week.
“He runs, and so when he’s caught he takes an ass-kicking and then goes into the back of a wagon without so much as a nod to the Fourth Amendment,” Simon said of Gray.
Simon acknowledged that he and O’Malley have squared off in the past. He said they battled over “whether [“The Wire”] was bad for the city, whether we’d be filming it in Baltimore.”
But he said that his critique of O’Malley is not sour grapes.
“And, hey, if he’s the Democratic nominee, I’m going to end up voting for him,” Simon said, adding that “It’s not personal and I admire some of his other stances on the death penalty and gay rights.”