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The Wire Goes Out with a Bang and Takes the "War on Drugs" to Task

Ian S. Thompson,
Senior Legislative Advocate,
ACLU
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March 11, 2008

For fans of HBO’s groundbreaking and thought-provoking dramatic series The Wire, Sunday night marked a sad occasion as the series officially ended after five seasons. (I myself am looking at the glass as being half full, as it won’t be too long before the series box set is released on DVD.)

Ever since its first season in 2002, The Wire challenged the way we watch TV shows, particularly the typical “cop show.” A combination of excellent writing and ensemble acting quickly endeared the show to critics and viewers alike. I found one of the most compelling aspects to be how it avoided easy characterizations of good and bad and instead had the courage to depict characters as being much more morally complex, with many shades of gray, than any “good cop” or “bad drug dealer” ever would be.

Several members of the show’s writing staff have written a powerful and stinging indictment of America’s failed “War on Drugs” in the current issue of Time. The essay, like the show itself, will hopefully get people thinking about the impact this policy has had on communities across our country and discussing ways to move beyond what has proven to be neither effective nor fair. As the writers themselves point out:

Yet this war grinds on, flooding our prisons, devouring resources, turning city neighborhoods into free-fire zones. To what end? State and federal prisons are packed with victims of the drug conflict. A new report by the Pew Center shows that 1 of every 100 adults in the U.S. – and 1 in 15 black men over 18 – is currently incarcerated. That’s the world’s highest rate of imprisonment.

One of the ACLU’s current major campaigns is working to eliminate the profoundly unfair and racially discriminatory 100 to 1 disparity in sentences for crack vs. powder cocaine. Simple possession of a mere five grams of crack, or roughly the amount of two sugar cubes, results in the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence as 500 grams of powder cocaine. The policy has led to the same disastrous results that The Wire’s writers so forcefully spoke out against in their essay.

The crack cocaine law has been on the books for more than two decades and it is long overdue for Congress to eliminate this injustice in our criminal justice system. Please join the ACLU in expressing your opposition to the 100 to 1 disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine to your members of Congress by taking action today.

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