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Sheri Parks with David Simon

David Simon on his career and the death of the working class.

By Kelsi Loos, Office of Communications

UMD alumnus David Simon, creator of television series “The Wire” and “Treme,” spoke about his career, his art, and the drug war to an at-capacity crowd at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, in the third installment of the 2012 Dean’s lecture series.

American Studies Professor Sheri Parks led the conversation in her fourth interview with David Simon.

Simon considers himself, first and foremost, a journalist. As a student at the University of Maryland, he was the editor-in-chief of the Diamondback, and then went on to work for the Baltimore Sun for thirteen years on the crime beat.

His time at the Sun would serve as the inspiration for his books “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” and “The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner City Neighborhood,” a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, as well as the  Emmy-nominated and eight-time award winning series “The Wire.”

Television allowed him to create debate in a way that he could not as a reporter and found it frustrating that journalistic work did not raise the same level of concern about social issues that drama does.

“You make a television drama, and all of a sudden, everyone is asking your opinion on everything… Prose and journalism are failing to outrage the way they ought, but film gets everybody exercised,” he said.

Simon said that he is far less interested in entertaining than he is in creating a public argument about important social issues. 

He used his most popular series, “The Wire,” to argue the pointlessness of the drug war, which Simon considers a way to monetize the working class, who have been made economically useless by the lack of manufacturing jobs in America.

In 1982, there were 500,000 people in American prisons. That number has risen to 2.3 million, more than any other county on the face of the earth, he said, adding that the U.S. has more people imprisoned than China. 

“Why are we doing this? Because we don’t need these people, economically. We don’t need our manufacturing class. We’re heaving people out of the middle class left and right,” he said.

He encouraged the audience to refuse to be complicit in non-violent drug cases, by nullifying the jury, or refusing to convict a non-violent drug offender.

Simon also encouraged people interested in the subject of prison reform to attend the Angela Davis talk, the last speaker in the college’s Dean’s Lecture Series. Angela Davis, who advocates for prison reform, will speak on April 18th at 7 p.m. in the Colony Ballroom of the Stamp Student Union.