David Simon Condemns War on Drugs at NYT Conference, Using Baltimore as an Example

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Still via video from The New York Times

A lot has changed in the two yeas since David Simon sat down with the president to discuss drug policy, but the writer and producer’s message remains the same.

In a video posted by The New York Times today, Simon adds to his career-long rant about the War on Drugs bringing utter ruin to America’s inner cities. He was one of about two dozen experts and celebs who spoke at the newspaper’s two-day July event, which was billed as the “preeminent conference for urban decision-makers.

“I’ve been firmly advocating that we have to abandon the drug war,” Simon says with crossed arms in the clip. “Walk away from this disaster. This is absolutely an affront, not only to civil liberties, but it has led to a level of over-policing and brutalization.”

“It trains police to do the wrong thing,” he continues. “It trains police not to do the thing that is absolutely essential to the lifeblood of the city, which is solve those crimes that actually hurt people. And instead, they make stats. It destroyed the police department in my city of Baltimore.”

Simon drove this point home as the head writer and executive producer of “The Wire,” portraying the Baltimore Police Department as an entity suffering from an internalized obsession with arrest numbers and clearance rates that could indicate progress on paper without actually addressing the systemic issues plaguing neighborhoods.

Nearly 10 years have passed since the show’s fifth and final season ended, and Baltimore is still suffering from the scourge of drug use and a thriving underground market that fuels much of the city’s gun violence. (Figures suggest the drug problem has worsened now, with Baltimore contributing heavily to an annual climb in opioid-related overdoses across the state.) Two years ago, Simon had the chance to sit down and share his feelings about the drug war with President Barack Obama, who, of course, agreed with him about the societal harms of mandatory minimum sentences for drug users and small-time dealers.

Of course, 2017 brings us a new reality, with Jeff Sessions in charge of Donald Trump’s Justice Department. Sessions has called for a renewed War on Drugs, rather than a continued scaling-back, by instructing prosecutors around the country to pursue the harshest sentences possible – even for low-level drug crimes.

“It is a core principle that prosecutors should charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense,” Sessions wrote in a memo in May. “This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us. By definition, the most serious offenses are those that carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory-minimum sentences.”

Let’s just assume Trump won’t be calling Simon in to the White House to hear his thoughts on drug policy anytime in the next three years.

Ethan McLeod
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Ethan McLeod

Senior Editor at Baltimore Fishbowl
Ethan has been editing and reporting for Baltimore Fishbowl since fall of 2016. His previous stops include Fox 45, CQ Researcher and Connection Newspapers in Northern Virginia. His freelance writing has been featured in Baltimore City Paper, Leafly, DCist and BmoreArt, among other outlets. He enjoys basketball, humid Mid-Atlantic summers and story tips.
Ethan McLeod
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