How ‘The Wire’ Season 2 Prepared Us for America’s White Insurrection
The show’s embittered longshoremen presage the mentality of the Capitol Hill terrorists
There’s a scene in “Duck and Cover,” the eighth episode of The Wire’s second season, that has been on my mind for the past two weeks.
In the scene, detectives Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski and Lester Freamon are cracking the code behind tracking the longshoremen’s illegal drug-smuggling shipments. Prez notes that they uncovered Frank Sobotka’s scheme much more easily than they did the Barksdale operation in the Baltimore projects. Rather than sending codes like the Barksdale crew did, Sobotka and his fellow longshoremen made direct phone calls using their real numbers and talking plainly about their criminal activity.
“Not as careful as Barksdale’s people were,” Prez says.
“This ain’t West Baltimore,” Freamon responds. “They’re doing it on their phones because they don’t expect us to be on them.”
Those two lines of dialogue encompass the Black experience in America — but also the dichotomy between Black Lives Matter protests and the spoiled man’s race riot on the Capitol. The ingenuity of the Barksdale codes, as Freamon explains, came out of necessity: Black neighborhoods have to navigate the police state in which they live. Like any Black person, the Barksdale crew knew that they were more scrutinized, monitored, and susceptible to the whims of police brutality; they knew they had to go the extra mile to secure themselves.
On the other side of town, the White criminals don’t worry about codes and hidden identities because they’re protected by generational privilege. They know that they’re not being surveilled at all times and live a relatively consequence-free existence. So they can commit crimes in plain sight.
That’s exactly what was in my head as I watched White people engaging in a civil war with their faces exposed, their social media accounts documenting their every move, their information readily accessible to anyone with a Twitter or Instagram account. These supposedly aggrieved White people were swimming in their privilege while raging against a perceived slight that only lives in their imaginations. Why hide their crimes? They knew they were safer than Black people peacefully marching will ever be.
To watch season two of “The Wire” is to see the privileged become the villain — despite, or maybe because of, the fact that they don’t have to deal with the problems that plague Black communities across the proverbial railroad tracks.
In many ways, it’s the story of The Wire season two. It’s the story of a community that feels short-changed by its status in Baltimore even though they’re well aware they live better than the Black folks on the other side of town (who they refer to as N-words on multiple occasions, by the way). Like the Black folks in West Baltimore, the Sobotkas tried to even score illegally. Yet as we’ve seen in the past two weeks, there’s always more space for the stories and justifications White people use to commit crimes.
The season ends with a brilliant breakdown of the way Whiteness is embedded into and protected by the American existence. The Sobotkas’ plug was a man known as The Greek, a higher-up shrouded in mystery. The Baltimore police came close to cornering The Greek, but he was connected to people in Homeland Security and the United States government; those connections freed him from the incarceration that would await Avon Barksdale in the next season. Avon may have been at the top of his operation, but he was a relative nobody next to Sobotka — who was tied to Baltimore politics — or The Greek.
To watch season two of The Wire is to see the privileged become the villain — despite, or maybe because of, the fact that they don’t have to deal with the problems that plague Black communities across the proverbial railroad tracks. And yet these White folks are obsessed with what they feel they’re owed, benefitting from the spoils of Whiteness while claiming that the world is unfair to them and them alone.
As much as they think they’re trying, they’ll never know what it’s like to actually organize like their lives are on the line.