Created 20 years after the groundbreaking crime drama “Wiretap,” showrunner David Simon continues to explore the complex relationship between cops and criminals in Baltimore in the acclaimed HBO miniseries “We Own This City.” The story concerns the formation of A gun-tracking task force following the tragic Freddie Gray incident in 2015, investigating a culture of police brutality, corruption and a deep need for reform.
While the show is replete with lots of funny and memorable obscene quotes, it’s the lines that speak to the broader culture of law enforcement abuse, abuse of office, and the need for change that resonate so strongly in We Own This City.
“When you need to fight, man, you have to win. There are people who think that police brutality is when the police win fights. The last time I checked, weren’t we supposed to be winning fights?”
Simon opens “We Own This City” with a thrilling monologue by Wayne Jenkins (Jon Bernthal), which he gives to his men and recruits, which instantly establishes the show’s theme and the protagonist’s position on it. Jenkins makes no apologies for the way he guards the streets of Baltimore, and urges his officers to act in the same spirit, despite perceived injustice by the public.
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Jenkins not only practices what he preaches, but also sincerely believes that it is his right and the right of every policeman to do everything necessary to get guns and drugs off the streets.
“If we lose the battle, we will lose the streets. Let it sink in.”
Moments after the aforementioned quote was uttered in the star-studded HBO miniseries, director Reinaldo Marcus Green wisely decided to shoot Jenkins in close-up to emphasize the enduring significance of the consequences of defeat in a physical battle on the streets of Baltimore.
The line essentially means that Jenkins draws a line in the booth with a very clear mission statement: police brutality is OK if it means a reduction in crime in the city as a whole. This basic conflict overshadows the rest of the series, where almost every character gets into moral bonds by acting legally or violating their boundaries. Jenkins utters the phrase with an unforgettable seriousness, at once imperious and striking.
“I can’t f!ck Superman!”
As Jenkins becomes more influential in his position with BPD and then with GTTF, he begins to see himself as an untouchable superhero who is simply flawless. Jenkins was partially disappointed, thinking he could get away with it, but he is also helped by systemic corruption throughout the department. The only thing stronger than Superman is Jenkins’ self—esteem.
Jenkins utters this phrase, believing that refusing to report a repaired car will have no consequences, the same opinion he shares after attacking a citizen on his doorstep and stealing money during a drug raid that he arranged with Detective Suiter (Jamie Hector).
“If I was going to find one troubled cop as a prime example of what went wrong here in Baltimore, where would I start?”
The moral compass of the show is Nicole Steele (Wunmi Mosaku), a Justice Department civil rights lawyer tasked with exposing the culture of corruption at BPD. Arriving at the station, she also clarifies her mission in a frightening question that she couldn’t understand at first.
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The fact that not one, but several “problem cops” operate with impunity in BPD makes this line even more instructive, establishing Steele’s long-term goal of weeding out good cops from bad ones.
“They put me in a squad made up of the biggest crooks in the whole damn department.”
One of the most fascinating uses of flashbacks in the well—received HBO original series is how they portray characters working on both sides of the law. Take, for example, Gemell Rayam (Darrell Britt-Gibson), a former criminal who, in order to mitigate the sentence, agreed to become a plainclothes officer precisely because of his connections with the streets and the valuable information he had.
In fact, forced by BPD to help get rid of weapons and drugs in the city, Jemell makes a sharp statement exposing the widespread corrupt practices of the judicial system. Even working for BPD, Jemell can’t tell the cops from the criminals he grew up with.
“I took this position in a department that has fundamental problems that have not been solved for years. And now the mayor who hired me is leaving his post in November, and I do not know who I work for.”