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A Tale of Two Cities
November 12, 2009 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Crime: A Tale of Two Cities. When "The Wire" gained popularity in Great Britain, we were contacted by a London-based journalist who proposed a job swap. Mark Hughes, a crime reporter with The Independent, a national newspaper in the United Kingdom, wanted to come to Baltimore to see if the city’s police officers, drug dealers, prosecutors and politicians bore any resemblance to those on show. We agreed to complete the exchange by sending our police reporter, Justin Fenton, to London to compare crime trends.

Articles from The Independent:

Mark Hughes in Baltimore:
Just minutes after I arrived, I was at the scene of a shooting ...
189 homicides this year – this is The Wire, only real
The trials of 'Baltimore's Boris''
Wire' star joins real fight against crime

Justin Fenton in London:
The sound of fireworks reminds me of home
'Disputes are pettier than in Baltimore'
Britain's use of DNA is light years ahead
Keeping children out of the gangs' clutches


Readers from both sides of the pond react to the story.
posted by HumanComplex (30 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been following this for the past week or so. I find it humorous that Mark Hughes thinks Baltimore is no more dangeous than London.

I've lived in both cities and Hughes is deluded if he thinks that the crime in London is in any way comparable to the crime in Baltimore. People's perception of crime in England is so skewed; when I lived there it almost seemed that wearing a hooded sweatshirt was a punishable offense.

Nevertheless, Hughes is a better writer, but maybe Baltimore lends itself to better crime reporting.
posted by cloeburner at 8:01 AM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is really interesting, great post. Incomplete, though, without this trenchant analysis of the differences between American and British crime.
posted by saladin at 8:06 AM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


My friend is a prosecutor in Baltimore. This friend also worked in the courts before that. Not only is the Wire very realistic, but almost everyone in the show of any consequence is based on a real person, and people know exactly who is who, especially the cops . The show is as realistic as you can get in TV. One cop who plays the administrative lieutenant plays another cop and an actor plays the role of the cop who is acting.

I'm a Maryland lawyer and all the lawyers I know working in the criminal justice system in Baltimore say its pretty much true to life.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:13 AM on November 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


This is really interesting, great post. Incomplete, though, without this trenchant analysis of the differences between American and British crime.

I'd hate to be a dustbin in Shaftsbury tonight.
posted by total warfare frown at 8:16 AM on November 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


Baltimore population ~800,000 with ~200 murders.
London population ~7,000,000 with ~200 murders.
Juarez population ~1,600,000 with ~2000 murders this year so far.

So by this measure alone, Baltimore is about ten times as dangerous as London, and Ciudad Juarez is about five times as dangerous as Baltimore.
posted by Killick at 8:20 AM on November 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


What a terrific idea; hats off to the Indy. Bet the Guardian are kicking themselves over not thinking of this one, having produced a book's worth of bloggery about The Wire.
posted by rhymer at 8:37 AM on November 12, 2009


Thanks for posting this. A very interesting read.
posted by slimepuppy at 8:50 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"As much as we get these young lads arrested for doing certain things, there's an element where we try to intervene at an early stage to steer them off this path," said Police Constable Duncan McNulty.

nice to see they have one over there too.
posted by ofthestrait at 8:55 AM on November 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


Baltimore population ~800,000 with ~200 murders.

Baltimore's population is actually about 640,000, give or take.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 8:56 AM on November 12, 2009


Baltimore's population is actually about 640,000, give or take the odd 200
posted by criticalbill at 9:04 AM on November 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


> almost everyone in the show of any consequence is based on a real person, and people know exactly who is who, especially the cops

That's fascinating...
posted by darth_tedious at 9:16 AM on November 12, 2009


It seems a shame that the exchange was only for a week. I'd think a month would be a much better length of time to really allow both reporters to dig in and have deep reporting about the comparison / contrast they were seeking.

It seems as though Fenton was really feeling like his hands were tied as a reporter. I didn't realize that the press was basically forbidden to write about investigations in process and such in Britain. No wonder his pieces are so much shorter and are largely about mundane backroom procedure stuff and not about real meaty crime reporting. It must be a bit of a shock for Hughes to be dropped in the middle of everything so suddenly after being accustomed to that other system.
posted by hippybear at 9:20 AM on November 12, 2009


Finally, while The Wire has been an unmitigated success in most quarters, I am acutely aware that the place it received the most hostile reception was, unsurprisingly given the murderous, drug-addled, bastion of corruption the city is represented as, Baltimore.

That sentence hurts my brain, and I'm a comma whore myself.

Is The Independent one of those papers outsourcing editors now, too?
posted by rokusan at 10:06 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


So... anyone out there think that it might've been a bit premature to cut ties with the motherland?!

Royalists unite!
posted by markkraft at 10:44 AM on November 12, 2009


We should have kept Tom Paine and sent you the royals.
posted by Abiezer at 10:49 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Finally, while The Wire has been an unmitigated success in most quarters, I am acutely aware that the place it received the most hostile reception was, unsurprisingly given the murderous, drug-addled, bastion of corruption the city is represented as, Baltimore.

Yeah. That's awful. And I'm from Baltimore, and I like The Wire. My dad, who's worked in Baltimore City schools his entire adult life, likes The Wire. Everyone I know from Baltimore likes The Wire.

The only people who got their panties in the bunch were a few politicians who said some shit on tv. Because what were they gonna say? "Yeah, this is a totally accurate portrayal of what's happening on watch?"
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:50 AM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


"on my watch"
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:50 AM on November 12, 2009


Finally, while The Wire has been an unmitigated success in most quarters, I am acutely aware that the place it received the most hostile reception was, unsurprisingly given the murderous, drug-addled, bastion of corruption the city is represented as, Baltimore.

Yeah. That's awful. And I'm from Baltimore, and I like The Wire. My dad, who's worked in Baltimore City schools his entire adult life, likes The Wire. Everyone I know from Baltimore likes The Wire.

The only people who got their panties in the bunch were a few politicians who said some shit on tv. Because what were they gonna say? "Yeah, this is a totally accurate portrayal of what's happening on watch?"


People from Baltimore that I know love that show. Especially the people who are depicted, other than the politicians.

Carcetti=O'Malley if your keeping score.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:02 AM on November 12, 2009


The pity is, years down the road, we'll look at the influence of The Wire, and it's only real lasting impact is the number of Irish-Americans who won't drink Bushmills because they think it's a Protestant whiskey.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:04 AM on November 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this came about because Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, compared the UK's law and order problems with those protrayed in the Wire.

As these pieces and the figures show, this is nonsense, however, I'm sure that won't stop the relentless fear campaign that's been conducted by the right wing press in the UK for the last ten years or so to persuade us that we should vote Tory again.
posted by johnny novak at 11:04 AM on November 12, 2009


Nerese Campbell=Sheila Dixon? (I'm asking.)
posted by box at 12:04 PM on November 12, 2009


More broadly, is there an extended cross-reference chart out there someplace? I'm a sucker for a roman a clef.
posted by box at 12:33 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nerese Campbell is probably some combination of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Sheila Dixon.
posted by electroboy at 3:13 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, the deacon is played by Melvin Williams, who's the real-life inspiration for Avon Barksdale.
posted by electroboy at 3:22 PM on November 12, 2009


We're the hooligans! *clock*
posted by bwg at 4:49 PM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


It would be nice if, like Box says, somewhere down the line a version of The Wire came out like the version of On The Road that kept all of the original names. With On The Road, the cast of characters is pretty small, and it's easy to remember that Old Bull Lee = William S. Burroughs. The Wire is a touch more expansive, and it'd be nice to see just how deep it goes. Of course, at some point, there'd likely be libel/invasion of privacy issues, but hey, it'd be fun to find out.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:17 PM on November 12, 2009


Something sort of like that is coming out. Legends of the Unwired is produced by Kenny Jackson and Nathan Avon "Bodie" Barksdale, who claim to be the real inspiration for Avon and Stringer Bell.
posted by electroboy at 8:59 PM on November 12, 2009


The only people who got their panties in the bunch [regarding The Wire] were a few politicians who said some shit on tv. Because what were they gonna say? "Yeah, this is a totally accurate portrayal of what's happening on watch?"

There's an amusing story that David Siomn tells about the political backlash against The Wire. Between seasons, he was getting pressured with the threat of permits and licenses being denied, making it impossible to film in Baltimore.

Simon tells officials that if thats the way it's going to be, he'll just film in Pittsburgh.

"So the next season of The Wire will be about Pittsburgh?"

"No," Simon replies. "It'll still be about Baltimore. I'll just film it in Pittsburgh."
posted by outlier at 1:58 AM on November 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


I've lived in both cities and Hughes is deluded if he thinks that the crime in London is in any way comparable to the crime in Baltimore. People's perception of crime in England is so skewed; when I lived there it almost seemed that wearing a hooded sweatshirt was a punishable offense.

Underling this for truth. I take part in my neighbourhood association in west London and the disconnect between what people talk about and what it's actually like is vast. Election material almost always focuses on crime, painting a picture of fearful elderly trapped in their houses, wild and out-of-control youth roaming the streets. Halloween prompted feverish discussions about hooligans and how to keep them from harassing people. Stolen bikes are treated like the wedge of oncoming anarchy.

In a strange way, this attitude actually encourages crime. Youth is treated as a pathology, alienating the young. Communities are encouraged to be fearful, destroying community. Petty, odd irrelevant symptoms (like hoodies) are attacked, taking resources away from real crimes.
posted by outlier at 2:18 AM on November 13, 2009 [3 favorites]


Hoodies are not irrelevant. Apart from being a uniform of discontent (good luck to them) they are also a criminal device in the modern panopticon. If you walk into a shop that you're going to rob, a hoodie is pretty much essential if you don't want to show up on the low res video footage. Likewise, if you want to feel free to engage in fist fights in the street, a hoodie can keep your face from showing up on the cctv.

I'd rather people had knives denied them than hoodies, but you can't say they're irrelevant.
posted by GeckoDundee at 8:04 AM on November 13, 2009


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