Tapping into the Wire: The Real Urban Crisis

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Did Omar Little die of lead poisoning? Would a decriminalization strategy like the one in Hamsterdam end the War on Drugs? What will it take to save neglected kids like Wallace and Dukie? Tapping into 'The Wire' uses the acclaimed television series as a road map for exploring connections between inner-city poverty and drug-related violence. Past Baltimore City health commissioner Peter Beilenson teams up with former Baltimore Sun reporter Patrick A. McGuire to deliver a compelling, highly readable examination of urban policy and public health issues affecting cities across the nation. Each chapter recounts scenes from episodes of the HBO series, placing the characters' challenges into the broader context of public policy.

A candid interview with the show’s co-creator David Simon reveals that one of the intentions of the series is to expose gross failures of public institutions, including criminal justice, education, labor, the news media, and city government. Even if readers haven’t seen the series, the book’s detailed summaries of scenes and characters brings them up to speed and engages them in both the story and the issues. With a firm grasp on the hard truths of real-world problems, Tapping into 'The Wire' helps undo misconceptions and encourage a dialogue of understanding.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
While the popular HBO series The Wire was celebrated for its nuanced look at the institutions that ran and often failed the city of Baltimore, it proves a thin organizing device for Beilenson and McGuire’s study of Baltimore’s administrative policy and war on drugs. Narrated by Beilenson, Baltimore’s health commissioner between 1992 and 2005, each chapter begins with a description of a scene or scenes from the HBO show and describes a corresponding real-life problem and related initiative that Beilenson introduced during his tenure. Although the authors’ accounts of needle exchange programs and preventative initiatives, such as Operation Safe Kids, offer informative descriptions of civic-minded leadership overcoming political hurdles, the endless list of Beilenson’s achievements soon starts to read as a litany of self-gratification. Worse, the authors’ insistence on prefacing every discussion with corresponding incidents from The Wire proves both unnecessary and increasingly strained as the book progresses, culminating in speculation that one young assassin on the show may have been afflicted with lead poisoning despite little evidence. Add in pedestrian prose that occasionally tries for strained literary significance and the result is a misguided book that nonetheless manages to offer some valuable insider insight into important municipal policy issues. (Oct.)
Journal of Urban Health - Danielle C. Ompad

An engaging, fast-paced read that translates the fiction of a cable one-hour drama to the reality of an American City. Using the themes of the social determinants of health, governance, and intersectoral action, the book seeks to reframe the discourse about drug policy and the health of US cities. It is an important read for students and for those seeking to communicate the importance of social determinants of health and understand the politics of drugs and health in cities.

Rain Taxi Review of Books - Andrew Cleary

Beilenson leads us through the rationale and implementation of public health initiatives that might have an effect on the show's characters, or on the city's embattled residents those characters are meant to portray.

Library Journal
The War on Drugs has traditionally focused on criminalization and incarceration, rather than on treatment, for nonviolent drug users. And, over the years, the incidences of HIV and AIDS have skyrocketed, prisons have been filled beyond their capacity, and cities have experienced shortages of dependable workers. Former Baltimore Sun reporter McGuire and former Baltimore Health Commissioner Beilenson analyze these problems in this engaging account of the ravages of the policy of criminalization. Frequent references to The Wire, the groundbreaking HBO series that dramatized this issue against the backdrop of inner-city Baltimore, along with the authors' firsthand experiences in that city, make a convincing argument that nonviolent drug users are part of a significant public health problem that demands an effective response from cities. In order for public institutions to provide viable solutions to this problem, Beilenson and McGuire argue, they must move away from criminalizing nonviolent drug users. VERDICT Readers cannot help but feel sympathy for those who struggle with addiction and the plight of government officials who strive to create alternatives to this dilemma. Highly recommended for readers interested in substance abuse or criminal justice issues and prepared for intellectual engagement.—Chad Clark, Lamar State Coll., Port Arthur, TX
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781421407500
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 8/15/2012
  • Pages: 232
  • Sales rank: 1,516,788
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter L. Beilenson, M.D., M.P.H., is the CEO of Evergreen Health Cooperative. He served as health officer of Howard County, Maryland, from 2007 to 2012 and as Baltimore City Health Commissioner from 1992 to 2005. Patrick A. McGuire is a journalist with more than twenty years of experience, fourteen of which were at the Baltimore Sun.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Foreword A Conversation with David Simon, Creator of The Wire Patrick A. McGuire ix

Chapter 1 The New Public Health Crisis: Wallace's World 3

Chapter 2 Heroin Central: The Street Life of Bubbles, Mario, and Johnny 19

Chapter 3 Losing the War on Drugs: The Pit versus the Police 33

Chapter 4 Medicalize or Legalize: Hamsterdam 47

Chapter 5 Needle Exchange and the AIDS Dilemma: Sticking It to "the Bug" 61

Chapter 6 Treatment on Demand as a Strategy: Walon's Success Story 77

Chapter 7 School Performance and the MIA Parent: The Tragedy of Dukie's Education 93

Chapter 8 Teenage Pregnancy and STDs: Shardene's Escape 109

Chapter 9 Firepower: Snoop's Beretta, Avon's Heckler, and Omar's Mossberg 123

Chapter 10 Place Matters: Why Didn't Bodie Just Leave? 135

Chapter 11 Of Paint and Guns: Did Omar Die of Lead Poisoning? 149

Chapter 12 Obese Yet Malnourished: The Weighty Contradiction of Prop Joe 161

Chapter 13 Public Health and Politics: The Promise and Peril of Tommy Carcetti 169

Epilogue Learning from The Wire: Practicing Politics to Practice Medicine 179

Cast of Characters 189

Notes 193

Index 207

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