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by Peter Moskos

July 23, 2008

Life on the Streets?

There's an article in Baltimore's City Paper about my book. It's a bit harsh and kind of snarky (right down to the ? in the headline), but I've got thick skin. It's quite insightful when he's not slagging me off personally. And he did very well with the material from the phone interview (really).

He likes my book, so perhaps I shouldn't complain. It isn't in the nature of an alternative papers to write gushing reviews.

As an objective reader, which I'm not, I enjoyed it. As an author, I'm very happy for the publicity.

The review did leave me with three unanswered questions. I wrote the author. Maybe he'll get back to me.

1) Did he really think Cop in the Hood was just laying around in the "to publish" pile and then "dusted off" by Princeton University Press when they announced The Wire was coming to an end?

2) How come he and the fact checkers (who actually did call) from City Paper couldn't get my age right?

3) Why say it's been nine years since I've been a cop when it's been seven? The point would have been just as valid... but he would have had the privilege of actually being right. Nine years ago I wasn't even in Baltimore.

As they say in the The Wire, malaka.

To his credit, the reviewer did get back to me. He apologized for his bad math and write the following:
I didn't mean it to be snarky. I was reading it pretty closely. The Atlantic obviously liked it, as did others. From a Baltimore perspective, it's frustrating, because the need for a coherent strategy seems to be an essential point. The City Paper is local, and we have to address the issue for locals.

From a Baltimorean's perspective, the question from the gut is immediately: suddenly Baltimore is famous for its murder rate. In fact, that seems to be a primary artistic resource in this community. When a New Yorker comes down to write about Baltimore's crime scene -- and believe me, getting a New Yorker to come down to Baltimore for any other reason isn't easy -- the first thing people ask: Is that what brought you here? What does this actually tell us about our problems as a city now? Or is Baltimore officially a posterboy for a failed drug war?

Yes, the review was harsh personally, but you have to understand that what you wrote is pretty harsh indictment of our city. When the names aren't real (as you yourself explain), and the commissioner has done his time and bombards the airwaves with the same old spiels, it's easy for a Baltimorean who's following the police force today to wonder how much has changed since then. For us, that's the primary question, and that's obviously not the focus of Cop in the Hood. Or of The Wire, for that matter. But it certainly goes hand in hand with the Wire.

Maybe it doesn't help much, but I really learned a lot about the police force. I also admired your approach to the subject. And you never tried to glamorize anything. I was trying to tell what the book was... and what it wasn't. It was about police work. It was about the hood. As an academic book, it was clearly well received. But as a book about Baltimore -- and that's what Baltimoreans who pick it up a B &N are going to read it is -- it was also frustratingly out-of-date.

My reply:

Thanks for getting back to me. I appreciate it.

I plead guilty to trying not to gear the book exclusively to Baltimore. My editor's biggest concern (and mine, too) was "why will anybody outside of Baltimore care?" So while the book is about Baltimore, it's not really supposed to a book about Baltimore, if you catch my drift. So I think your criticism there is very justified. I try and use Baltimore as an archetype of these problems everywhere.

As to the book being set in the past, not much I can do about that. Believe it or not, it took 3 years to write after I got my PhD in 2004. Such is life. But do you really think it's out of date? Have Baltimore police and the drug trade changed much since then? My police friends all tell me it's the same as it's ever been.

1 comment:

DJK said...

Oh the press.... free reign on information... True, not true...who cares?