In a meta turn of events, Felicia Pearson, who played the hitwoman Snoop on The Wire was arrested today on drug charges. While Pearson's journey from a murder conviction at 14 to starring in what's often described as the greatest American television series was often painted as a happy ending, the charges reinforce the show's message about the near impossibility of escaping a world of poverty and crime.
In a statement to Slate, series creator David Simon elaborated on this point. After noting that she's still innocent until proven guilty, he said:
This young lady has, from her earliest moments, had one of the hardest lives imaginable. And whatever good fortune came from her role in The Wire seems, in retrospect, limited to that project. She worked hard as an actor and was entirely professional, but the entertainment industry as a whole does not offer a great many roles for those who can portray people from the other America. There are, in fact, relatively few stories told about the other America.
In an essay published two years ago in Time magazine, the writers of The Wire made the argument that we believe the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like West and East Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral. And we said then that if asked to serve on any jury considering a non-violent drug offense, we would move to nullify that jury's verdict and vote to acquit. Regardless of the defendant, I still believe such a course of action would be just in any case in which drug offenses-absent proof of violent acts-are alleged.
Both our Constitution and our common law guarantee that we will be judged by our peers. But in truth, there are now two Americas, politically and economically distinct. I, for one, do not qualify as a peer to Felicia Pearson. The opportunities and experiences of her life do not correspond in any way with my own, and her America is different from my own. I am therefore ill-equipped to be her judge in this matter.
News of Snoop's arrest was particularly jarring to me, since coincidentally I just finished watching the series today, and was still reeling from the final scenes when I heard the news. (Spoiler alert: The police catch the bad guys and the entire drug underworld in Baltimore collapses.) Though I loved the series, I did feel like a poser for learning about the "other America" from a show that ran on premium cable. Despite its apparent authenticity, I'm sure I don't know all that much more about what life was like for Pearson, who grew up in the Baltimore projects herself, than I did before watching.
Pearson's arrest has spurred many articles sympathizing with her difficult upbringing, but simply focusing on her story is missing the point of the series. We only know Snoop, but the 29 other people she was arrested with weren't a bunch of anonymous criminals either. At the end of his Time essay, Simon asked fans to, "remember that the lives being held in the balance aren't fictional." There was a Michael, a Stringer, and a D'Angelo with her, but we probably won't ever learn more about their stories.