Pubdate: Mon, 25 Aug 2014
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2014 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: David Zurawik


If you thought 'The Wire' made Baltimore look bleak...

Drug sales in broad daylight at Lexington Market. An addict telling
viewers Baltimore "is where you want to be for heroin," and then
letting the camera watch her cook and shoot up in her car on a street
that appears to be in Hampden after she scores.

A masked drug dealer sitting at a table full of dope, pointing his gun
at the camera and saying, "Coming to you live from Baltimore." An
on-screen headline that says, "Baltimore is the heroin capital of America."

This is how Baltimore is depicted in the National Geographic Channel's
"Drugs, Inc.: The High Wire," which premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday. The
one-hour report is sure to re-open old wounds at City Hall, if nowhere
else, about Baltimore's national and international media image as a
drug-infested wasteland of vacant rowhouses, lost lives and dead bodies.

Here's the opening narration, sounded over a montage of Rust Belt

"Baltimore, a tough town facing hard times. The steel mills are long
gone. The docks are a shadow of what they used to be. Entire
neighborhoods stand deserted. On the streets, people hustle to get by.
And for many, the biggest hustle is the heroin hustle." Echoes of
HBO's drama "The Wire" are hard to miss -- as the subtitle "The High
Wire" itself might suggest to some viewers.

The hour is filled with unnamed men in masks sitting behind bags full
of dope and tables filled with guns, pills and money saying things
like, "Life is definitely cheap in Baltimore ... somebody kill you for

One such person identified as an "enforcer" talks about how much he
enjoys hurting and killing people -- and how little he fears the police.

There is no way for a reviewer to know how authentic these people are
or aren't since they are only identified by first names and the jobs
they perform in the drug trade, for example, "Wiley, crew boss."

We are asked to trust the producers that the people depicted as
members of the drug world really are what they present themselves to

And if they are, then I would have liked to see a fuller discussion of
the ethics of protecting the identities of criminals in such stories.

But the report does include fully identified members of the Drug
Enforcement Administration who are working in Baltimore and members of
the Harford County Sheriff's Department who are tracking "commuter
dealers" who buy drugs in Baltimore and sell them in the county.

The DEA agents are the ones who take the filmmakers with them on drug
buys and busts at Lexington Market.

As the cameras follow a 29-year-old woman identified only as "Lamb"
driving down Pennsylvania Avenue toward Lexington Market, the narrator
says: "Pennsylvania Avenue and Lexington Market stand at the heart of
Baltimore's illegal drug trade."

Later, the narrator says, "Lexington Market is one of the longest
running food markets in the world. But these days, the area has gained
a reputation for drugs."

As I watched National Geographic's depiction of Baltimore, I was 
reminded of the documentary the Al Jazeera English channel did in 
2012 for its "Fault Lines" series titled "Baltimore: Anatomy of an 
American City" with Sebastian Walker reporting.

I liked the Al Jazeera report a lot, but wondered in my review if
out-of-town documentary filmmakers - often working out of Washington
bureaus - come to Baltimore looking for the powerful images and
compelling characters they saw in "The Wire" and seek to reproduce
them through their photography and reporting.

I wondered as I watched "Drugs, Inc.: The High Wire" if I was now
seeing a kind of doubling effect with the National Geographic
filmmakers being influenced by both "The Wire" and the Al Jazeera
report on drugs in Baltimore.

If so, the images of Baltimore as a Mid-Atlantic version of Detroit
are compounding, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who recently
re-launched her public access TV channel as a repository of positive
civic images, is fighting a truly hopeless battle.

This is a media issue with huge economic and quality-of-life
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D