“We do the same thing as y’all. ‘Cept when we do it, it’s "Oh, my God, these kids is animals!" Like it’s the end of the world comin’.”
--Namond, HBO’s The Wire
Young black men crowd the corners of Baltimore. They are all hard talk, hard jaws, and crisp white t-shirts as big as sails—strapped. One precocious boy witnesses a shootout near a drug lord’s stash house and takes up sticks to play guns ‘n’ robbers. His trajectory is as follows: he graduates from sticks and piss-balloons, to g-packs and real guns, to taunting cops with brown bags of excrement, to housecats and lighter fluid, to bold, cold-blooded murder. In the words of social reformer Charles Loring Brace, this boy is one of the dangerous class—an undisciplined, delinquent youth. A creation of David Simon’s for HBO’s crime drama, The Wire, the character of Kenard may be a fictionalization, but his presence adds to the much-praised realism of the series. There really are young boys like Kenard that exist on the streets of American cities—falling into the easy and familiar trap of the drug industry. The Wire makes a point to follow the tread of Baltimore’s youth throughout all of its five seasons, introducing the topic of juvenile delinquency to the considerable range of social issues the show discusses. The Wire almost flawlessly represents the factors which cause a young person to “defect”— from the failings of the city school district, a difficult home life, or the struggle of homelessness, to the surrounding environmental influences that arise from life in the city of Baltimore. However, while The Wire and its examination of causalities does many things for the discussion of Juvenile Delinquency on the whole—taking the conversation to levels no other scripted television show has ever attempted—the series sometimes neglects or fails to fully engage with the nuanced issues surrounding juvenile delinquency in America today.
The origin of juvenile delinquency in America is not a particularly vast or convoluted tale, but the history is in constant conversation with the events of The Wire and American current events. Yet, since its formal inception at the end of the nineteenth century, the measures for legitimate sanctions of juvenile delinquency have shifted. Where for a time sanctions delinquency relied solely upon a formal pronouncement from the juvenile court system, society has witnesses an increase in informal sanctions of delinquency which take place outside of the juvenile courts, as well as a dangerous rise in sanctions that result from false perceptions of juvenile delinquency. The former two [sanctions] have given rise to the well-argued Labeling Theory, which endeavors to explain criminal recidivism. The eye of the Wire passes over these shifts in delinquency sanctions but doesn’t stay long enough to inform its audience of their destructive force or of how juvenile delinquency truly functions in the American landscape.
“…the class of a large city most dangerous to...