The fires may have been extinguished and the rebuilding may have begun. But emotions are still raw over the recent bloody events in Baltimore.
Allegations of police abuse, high crime rates, rioting, looting, racism. Sadly, none of this would come as a surprise to any of us who were devoted fans of "The Wire," the groundbreaking cop show which aired on HBO from 2002 to 2008, created by David Simon and a former Irish American Baltimore cop named Edward Burns.
In fact, a war of sorts has broken out between former Irish American Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and the creative team behind "The Wire." This is part of a much larger debate taking place across America about the roots of what happened in Baltimore – and Ferguson, and Staten Island – and what should be done in the wake of such tragedies.
Tragedies which include not only suspects killed while in police custody, but also cops killed for simply doing their job, such as 25-year-old Irish American Brian Moore, the NYPD officer who succumbed to wounds suffered while on the job early last week.
O’Malley’s war of words with Simon has been well documented.
“The feud between Martin O’Malley and David Simon, two men who made their careers in Baltimore but see the city in very different ways, supposedly ended on a train last year,” The Wall Street Journal recently noted.
“It was there that Mr. O’Malley, the Democrat preparing to run for president in part on his experience as Baltimore mayor, bumped into Mr. Simon, who had painted a dark picture of the city – and by extension of Mr. O’Malley – in his acclaimed HBO show 'The Wire.' The two men chatted over a beer and laughed about the tendency to nurse grudges.”
But recent events in Baltimore led Simon to blast O’Malley again, while O’Malley has argued that Simon – and the show he and Burns created – too often looked at the darkest side of events and refused to acknowledge any progress at all.
Both O’Malley and Burns bring a wealth of hard-won personal experience to this discussion. O’Malley is an ambitious politician with eyes on the White House who believes urban problems are daunting but solvable. Burns, meanwhile, is a Vietnam vet and former cop who has seen so much bad that it’s hard to be optimistic.
This certainly came through in the first project Burns and Simon collaborated on, a book entitled "The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighborhood."
Burns and Simon later turned "The Corner" into a gritty mini-series for HBO. It was groundbreaking, but ultimately small scale.
Then came "The Wire." Burns and Simon went on to create one of the most honest and unflinching portraits of urban America. It was not pretty. It humanized both the cops and criminals in a way that could make viewers uncomfortable and certainly forced a reexamination of political solutions to the problems plaguing Baltimore and other urban centers.
Burns grew up just outside of Baltimore. He was described as “tough, authoritarian, intellectual (and) Irish” by author Brett Martin in his book about cable TV’s great TV shows "Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution."
“Punished for chronic misbehavior by the nuns at his Catholic school with confinement in the basement, (Burns) discovered a walk-in freezer filled with ice cream,” Martin writes. This was, to Burns, “an early lesson in the pleasures of bucking the system.”
Burns’ anti-establishment sentiment was evident in "The Wire’s" main character, Irish American detective Jimmy McNulty. It’s no surprise that by the time "The Wire" fans got to know the show’s ambitious politician Tommy Carcetti (played by Irish actor Aiden Gillen), a real-life local pol named Martin O’Malley took notice.
Simon recently blasted O’Malley’s policing policies, tough he did add he would still probably vote for O’Malley of he runs for president.
As for Edward Burns, he is working on a movie about ethnic and racial tension in Yonkers.
Time will tell which Irish American – O’Malley or Burns – has things figured out when it comes to inner city racial tensions.
(Contact “Sidewalks” at tdeignan.blogspot.com)