A Note on Anti-Semitism in “The Wire”

I came to notice anti-Semitism in The Wire the first time when I watched the showdown between Omar Little and attorney Maurice Levy in court (Season 2, Episode 6):

It’s when Omar returns Levy’s accusation of being a parasite :

Levy: So you rob drug dealers? That is what you do.
Omar: Yes, sir.
Levy: You walk the streets of Baltimore with a gun, taking what you want, when you want it, willing to use violence when your demands aren’t met. This is who you are.
Omar nods.
Levy: Why should we believe your testimony then? Why believe anything you’ve say?
Omar: That’s up to y’all, really.
Levy: You’ve say you aren’t here testifying against the defendant because of any deal you made with the police.
Omar: True that.
Levy: That you are here because you want to tell the truth about what happened to Mr. Gant in that housing project parking lot.
Omar: Yeah.
Levy: When in fact you are exactly the kind of person who would, if you felt you needed to, shoot a man down on a housing project parking lot and then lie to the police about it, would you not?
Omar: Look, I ain’t never put my gun on no citizen.
Levy: You are amoral, are you not? You are feeding off the violence and the despair of the drug trade. You are stealing from those who themselves are stealing the lifeblood from our city. You are a parasite who leeches off…
Omar: Just like you, man.
Levy: … the culture of drugs… Excuse me?
Omar: I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game, though, right?

Of course, returning the slander makes for a witty rebuttal of an unappealing lawyer’s plea, but it is likewise a well-known trope in anti-Semitism to call a Jew a parasite that leeches off the healthy body of his host. And given this history, the audience’s joy about this superb exchange of blows allows it to dwell happily in this trope by having the excuse of pointing to the felicitous dramaturgy.

It’s not the only time that anti-Semitism shows up in The Wire. One can find it on several other occasions, e.g., when corrupt politician Clay Davis tells Detective Lester Freamon how primarily Jewish lawyers like Levy, Bronfman, Silverstein make their cut by taking high profile drug criminals as clients (Season 5, Episode 9):

Freamon: I’m not looking for any lawyers. I’m following the money.
Davis: Follow the lawyers. Levy, Bronfman, Silverstein, Cray… All those guys who take the high-end drug work. They don’t just make money off the criminal fees.
Freamon: How’s he…
Davis: The lawyers? They’re the ones who make a pather for all this street-corner money. They shwoin’ all these kingpin motherfuckers how to send it overseas, bring it back, invest the shit. They the ones who these ignorant ghetto motherfuckers always listen to when it comes to cash money. And Levy, man, he got the most grease.
Freamon: So Levy routes it through who?
Davis: Anyone who got a project or a game in need of cash. Developers, people lookin’ to capitalize, elected folk like myself. Shit, there’s a lot of people out here who need a dollar now an’ then…
Freamon: And the lawyers take their cut?
Davis: On both ends, though I got to say, he gonna let you rob one of his clients only so much. I mean, once you get a Barksdale or a Joe Stewart on the hook, you want to go deep on their ass. Levy’ll let you get a taste, but he won’t let you run wild. Cos once you get past these motherfuckin’ lawyers, you can really play the pimp. This one time, I had this fella named Bell hooked up on this Howard Street condo thing. Got him so that he wasn’t runnin’ his shit past the lawyer… Boy, I tell you, we bled that motherfucker…
Freamon: Lawyers, huh?
Davis: Oh, most definitely, detective. Me? Shit, I’m just small potatoes. Just a workin’ politician from Walbrook Junction, tryin’ to make his way from this world into the next.
Freamon: What else can you give me on Levy?
Davis: Nothin’ other than what I have. I ain’t up in his business or nuthin’. I just takin’ what he throws.
Freamon: Bullshit.

Again, it’s the materialistic, ruthless Jew who graps the money where he can, and who is even more amoral than any corrupt politician can be. Again, that’s a well-known trope from anti-Semitism.

To be clear. It’s not that I criticize that lawyers or politicians are depicted as amoral, greedy, and corrupt. It is that Jewish lawyers are singled out as the ones that are amoral, greedy, and corrupt lawyers.

By allowing the audience to savour a perfect piece of drama and dialogue, the audience is at the same time allowed to cherish a piece of anti-Semitism without need to justify it to itself. Instead it can always point to the dramaturgy as origin of its delight.

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One Response to A Note on Anti-Semitism in “The Wire”

  1. play says:

    So much yes! I noticed it when watching. And a lot of other things. This whole “cops being in principle nice and not at all that violent and racist” etc. was bad from the beginning, but would be impossible to portray like this now I think. “The Wire”, scandalous to some people not long ago, looks rather meek now.


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