Making Connections with The Wire: Telling the Stories Behind the Statistics

15 Pages Posted: 9 May 2018 Last revised: 31 May 2018

See all articles by Rachel E. Barkow

Rachel E. Barkow

New York University School of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2018


The reality of human nature is that facts and statistics do not move people to action — stories and personal connections do. Narratives, more than raw numbers, help people see the relationship between social and economic inequality and crime. For most Americans, the stories that have informed their view of criminal justice have created the misleading impression that many, if not most, people who commit crimes are violent by nature and unredeemable. With that perception, the statistics cannot break through because the public incorrectly believes the people in prison must all deserve to be there and retribution and public safety demand no less. This essay, part of a symposium celebrating The Wire, argues that the show provided a different narrative that vividly demonstrated for its viewers the way crime and policing really look in America, offering many of its viewers their first realistic view of these dynamics. It showed how structural forces propel people to commit crimes and vividly captured the daily struggles of people living in poverty in America’s cities. Viewers came to care about the shows characters and saw their humanity even when they committed crimes. For many viewers, it would be the first time they had a realistic view of crime and policing up close. And once you have that perspective, you cannot help but see all that is wrong with the current approach to crime. The Wire was art at its transformative best.

Keywords: Criminal Law, The Wire, Media Coverage of Crime

JEL Classification: K14

Suggested Citation

Barkow, Rachel E., Making Connections with The Wire: Telling the Stories Behind the Statistics (May 1, 2018). University of Chicago Legal Forum, Forthcoming; NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 18-31. Available at SSRN:

Rachel E. Barkow (Contact Author)

New York University School of Law ( email )

40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States
212-992-8829 (Phone)

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