Like many people in Iceland, I’ve watched The Wire. I’ve also been asked by a few enthusiastic fans of the show how “real” it is. Coming from Baltimore myself, I can attest that the show is all too real. The story of Felicia “Snoop” Pearson is very Baltimorean, and says a great deal about the city itself.
Pearson has always been candid about her upbringing and her past. Raised in foster care in east Baltimore, she was pulled into the violence the neighborhood is known for at an early age, culminating in her arrest at the age of 14 for murder. She would serve six and a half years, released from prison in 2000.
Even after getting her big break by landing the role of Snoop on The Wire, she still had run-ins with the law, including a minor drug charge in 2008 (which would eventually lead to acquittal). And now, there’s this.
Plenty of people are going to speculate on why a successful actress and aspiring musician would be anywhere near a major drug ring. Isn’t this the same Felicia Pearson who’s spoken so passionately in interviews about wanting to help young people escape the streets and make a better life for themselves?
Well, for one, an arrest isn’t a conviction. She was in a house that was raided, for reasons we of course don’t fully know. So even if she has been charged with conspiracy to sell heroin, we should probably have in mind that a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Secondly, I’d like tell you something about Baltimore, as someone who spent most of their life there. I love my hometown, honestly I do. I love the lake trout, the crab cakes, the jazz clubs, the waterfront at Fell’s Point, and all that other happy stuff that draws tourists downtown, especially to the Inner Harbor.
But where numerous city governments have been diligent in developing downtown – in the hopes of that precious tourist dollar – it has been woefully negligent of the city’s crime-ridden neighborhoods. Unless, of course, you count putting video cameras on top of streetlights and sending the police round every now and then. The roots of the social problems neighborhoods like Southwest and the East Side face – poor education, a lack of job opportunities, social services stretched thin – are left largely ignored.
These streets have a way of taking hold of you and not letting go, no matter who you think you are or how successful you’ve become. I’ve seen it countless times among the people I grew up with. The streets come to define you, and you see yourself in them. Especially if you’ve spent your whole life there. Pearson was one of the lucky ones. For countless Baltimore natives with similar life stories, they’ll never leave the few square blocks that comprise their entire world. It becomes, in other words, a violent – but familiar – rut to get stuck in, and where you feel your identity lies.
I don’t know if Pearson’s guilty, or what she was doing at that house. She could have been a part of this drug ring, or she could’ve just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But her story is very Baltimorean. You can turn your back on your old neighborhood, walk or run away, maybe even make a name for yourself. But in the end, saying goodbye to these streets takes, in many ways, a separation from your own identity. And that takes a tremendous amount of strength and courage.
I do love my hometown, don’t get me wrong. But the best thing Pearson can do is move the hell out of Baltimore.