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Bill Moyers Talks Drugs, Crime, Journalism and Democracy with Creator of 'The Wire'

HBO's critically-acclaimed "The Wire" creator David Simon talks about inner-city crime and politics, storytelling and the future of journalism.

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BILL MOYERS: So, he did what?

DAVID SIMON: Oh, I mean, you look at all the stuff that got added to the Federal Omnibus Crime Bill. All the new categories of crime and the Draconian nature. There's all of this preceded him by a little bit. He reinforced it, which was the federal sentencing guidelines, which are just appalling. You know, he had-

BILL MOYERS: Mandatory sentences, three strikes--

DAVID SIMON: Loss of parole. And again, not merely for violent offenders, because again, the rate of violent offenders is going down. Federal prisons are full of people who got caught muling drugs, and got tarred with the whole amount of the drugs. It's not what you were involved in or what you profited from. It's what they can tar you with. You know, a federal prosecutor, basically, when he decides what to charge you with and how much, he's basically the sentencing judge at that point. What they charge. And that's, of course, corrupting. It's, again, a stat.

BILL MOYERS: It's also clear from your work that you think the drug war has destroyed the policemen.

DAVID SIMON: Absolutely. That's the saddest thing in a way, is that, again, because the stats mean nothing. Because a drug arrest in Baltimore means nothing. Nothing. Real police work isn't being done. In my city, the arrest rates for all major felonies have declined, precipitously, over the last 20 years. From murder to rape to robbery to assault.


DAVID SIMON: Because to solve those crimes requires retroactive investigation. They have to be able to do a lot of things, in terms of gathering evidence that is substantive and meaningful police work. All you have to do to make a drug arrest is go in a guy's pocket. You know? You don't even need probable cause anymore in Baltimore. The guy who solves a rape or a robbery or a murder, he has one arrest stat. He's going to court one day. The guy who has 40, 50, 60 drug arrests, even though they're meaningless arrests, even though there's no place to put them in the Maryland prison system, he's going go to court 40 or 50 or 60 times. Ultimately, when it comes time to promote somebody, they look at the police computer. They'll look and they'll say, "This guy's made 40 arrests last month. You only made one. He's the Sergeant." You know, or, "That's the Lieutenant." So the guys who basically play the stat game, they get promoted.

BILL MOYERS: There's a scene in the third season of WIRE where the Baltimore Police Major Bunny Colvin, favorite character, gives some rare straight talk on the futility of this drug war. Take a look.


WOMAN: I come home from work, I can't even get up my front steps 'cause they occupied by the drug dealers. Is that in the picture you got up there?

POLICE MAJOR COLVIN: I'm Major Colvin. I apologize for giving you the wrong impression tonight, we mean no disrespect. I know what's going on in your neighborhoods, I see it everyday. Ma'am, it pains me that you cannot enter your own front door in safety and with dignity. But truth is, I can't promise you it's gonna get any better. We can't lock up the thousands that are out on those corners. There'd be no place to put them even if we could. We show you charts and statistics like they mean something, but you going back to your home tonight, we gonna be in our patrol cars, and the boys still gonna be out there on them corners. Deep in the game. This here is the world we've got, people. And it's about time that all of us had the good sense to at least admit that much.