SCOTT SIMON, Host:
A group of writers for HBO's highly-acclaimed, heavily-reviewed and exhaustively-discussed series "The Wire" have written their last collective manifesto. Appearing in this upcoming week's Time Magazine is ""The Wire's" War on the Drug War," a letter written by Ed Burns, David Simon, George Pelecanos, Richard Price and Dennis Lehane. They say that if they're ever asked to serve on a jury in a non-violent drug case, they will vote to acquit the defendant, regardless of the evidence, as a way to protest and undercut drug laws. The season finale of "The Wire" wraps up after five years on Sunday night.
We are joined from St. Petersburg, Florida by Dennis Lehane, author of "Mystic River" and many acclaimed novels. Thanks very much for being with us, Mr. Lehane.
SIMON: Oh, thanks for having me, Scott.
SIMON: And first, what motivated you to write this?
SIMON: Well, I mean as we saw the show coming to a close, I think we just wanted one last sort of coda, if you will, maybe to underscore one of the social points of the show, which is that the war on drugs doesn't work.
SIMON: So to understand this, if you were empanelled on a jury where the charge was possession or use of drugs, you would refuse to vote for a conviction.
SIMON: Yes, just as if I was on a jury in which it was possession or use of Jack Daniels.
SIMON: If, however, let's say there was a gun charge involved, somebody had shot somebody to gain access to drugs, then you would consider voting to convict.
SIMON: Oh absolutely, absolutely. It's a different type of crime.
SIMON: Wouldn't someone who says that they would disregard the evidence in a case, as a practical matter, almost certainly be excused from jury service, anyway?
SIMON: There you go. Our point right off the bat is we would be disqualified, but we would say why. As we said in Season Three, and I think it's one of David's better lines or better theories, is what that war on drugs needs is a paper bag, and what we mean by that is everybody understands.
They sell them at every corner store in America, a small paper bag to drink a beer out of. That's public drinking. That is against the law, and yet the paper bag allows police to look the other way and concentrate on what they're supposed to do, which is law enforcement.
SIMON: Even if just using drugs isn't a violent crime, the money that you give to a dealer supports some of the worst people on earth, who in fact do use violence.
SIMON: I agree with that argument on some level, but I would put it to you: What would you have done during Prohibition? Is the blood of all the people who the Mafia killed during the '20s on the souls of our grandparents? So is the blood on Franklin Roosevelt, who when he legalized beer said I think it's a good time to have a beer now?
I mean, he was saying we failed. For 13 years, we had a failure of policy, and now I'm going to have a beer. Is the blood still on him?
SIMON: Some of the most articulate and passionate proponents of drug laws and, in fact, fierce and aggressive police action to enforce the drug laws, are people who live in inner-city communities who say drugs have ravaged our neighborhood. They've taken almost half of an entire generation from us. We have to stamp this out.
SIMON: And there is absolutely no way I can argue against that argument. I am not arguing for mass legalization of drugs. I'm arguing for a different, more common-sense approach to the drug war, if you will, and saying that I don't believe that the drug war, as it is being fought now, is working.
SIMON: Did you learn something writing "The Wire" that added to your knowledge that informs this letter now?
SIMON: Well, I think that I have always been very, very class conscious. I have very much a chip on my shoulder from growing up working-class and seeing the world through those eyes, and so when I see what I consider is at some level a war on the poor, then yeah, that has galvanized me, hopefully not in a preachy sense. I mean, my God, this is the closest we hope to ever come to preaching would be this Time article. At the very base, we are storytellers. Our job is to tell an interesting story, and hopefully we did that over five seasons.
SIMON: Dennis Lehane, speaking with us from the Porter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida. Thank you very much.
SIMON: Thank you, Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.