Photo: ‘We Own This City’
‘We Own This City,’ is a new series that just aired on HBO Max which covers the true story of scandal and corruption in the Baltimore Police Department. This show depicts the Federal investigation into the Gun Trace Task Force, which was a special unit in the BPD tasked with the assignment of efficiently finding and removing illegal and unlicensed guns from the street. This unit was able to work in the shadows and this is what contributed to the level of corruption and unaccountability that its members acted with for nearly a decade. The show aims to broadly portray the stories of multiple people and their roles in either discovering or abetting this corruption. While the show contains many intriguing aspects, the entirety and diluted nature of its focus results in a convoluted plot that lacks enthusiasm and results in indifference by the audience.
‘We Own This City’: Captures The Epidemic of Baltimore Police Corruption
The new series, ‘We Own This City,’ is based on the true story by investigative journalist, Justin Fenton, who “chronicles the rise and fall of one of the most shocking instances of police corruption in Baltimore’s history.” Fenton uncovered these horrifying revelations in his book, ‘We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption.’ The astounding fact that this corruption was a reality is fundamentally what is contributing to society’s growing loss of faith in a service and field that is designed to uphold peace. This story about the insidious abuse of power by a special unit in the Baltimore Police Force, known as the Gun Trace Task Force, outlines how they were able to circumvent the law for nearly a decade. The members of this special unit used their might and authority to profit from their position. The crimes that the Gun Trace Task Force committed are wide-ranging and staggering.
“They targeted suspected drug dealers, carried fake weapons in case they shot an unarmed person to plant the weapon on them, and would re-sell the weapons and drugs that they stole to criminals.” To call these members of this police unit, “officers,” is an insult to the profession as a whole. The members of the GTTF in Baltimore were criminals and thugs who abused their position and contributed to the detriment of society. ‘We Own This City’ aims to depict the scope of this corruption, but unfortunately strays from the main objective of its message. While the series attempts to connect differing perspectives and characters into a single overarching storyline, the result is a muddled mess that attempts cohesion, but ultimately fails. What is essentially a fascinating story of corruption, abuse of power, and intrigue results in a series that cannot seem to identify the central focus of its intent.
‘We Own This City’: How It Relates to Societal Issues
‘We Own This City’ above all aims to be a reflection of societal issues that have arisen in recent years surrounding excessive police force, brutality, and systemic abuse of authority. The series in its first episode jumps from one plotline to another, attempting foremostly to connect them by the similar theme of societal injustice being propped up by systemic corruption. While it is clear the point that the series, ‘We Own This City,’ is trying to make, especially when considering the inspiration behind the series, ultimately the viewer is left confused, trying to make sense of dull interactions through incoherent, non-linear storytelling. “‘We Own This City’ is a ruminative show with a multitude of moving parts — too many, in fact.” Not once during the show’s air time is the viewer allowed the sense to grow accustomed to the characters. When the storyline finally begins to build some intrigue, immediately the plot jumps backward or forwards in time, throwing the viewer from their sense of placement, un-familiarizing them from characters they are never allowed to fully understand.
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The lone light that shines through this inconsistent series is Jon Bernthal’s antagonist, and lead character, Sgt. Wayne Jenkins. Bernthal fully embodies the swagger and bravado of this dirty cop, and who at one point in the show refers to himself as “superman.” The belief that Bernthal really could be this person in real life is emblematic of his incredible acting ability and every time that the show comes back to his character, it is like a breath of fresh air to the viewer. While Bernthal and his portrayal of Jenkins is excellent, this sadly is not nearly enough to captivate the viewer into the discombobulated and inconsistent nature of the series. Essentially, the greatest issue that ‘We Own This City,’ faces is not the content or the quality of the story, but rather its unattainable target of focus. The series tries to be a grand tale of societal injustice but instead of defining the main point of its attention, it culminates in a show that minimizes each character’s importance. This in turn leads to a story that is disordered and disinteresting, leaving the viewer wanting for more.
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‘We Own This City’: A Non-Fiction True Story That Brings Up Moral Questions About The Inherent Authority and Power That Police Carry
‘We Own This City,’ primarily highlights the way in which the Gun Trace Task Force, a special unit in the Baltimore Police Force, was able to break the law for nearly a decade. The unit was established in 2007, with eight of its members being arrested and charged in 2017. They were able to evade the attention of authorities because of the very nature of the work they were tasked with handling. Justin Fenton, author of the revelatory book, ‘We Own This City: A True Story of Crime, Cops, and Corruption,’ which identifies and outlines this police unit’s corruption, states in an interview, “They didn’t trot these guys out for press conferences. It wasn’t that we heard about them all the time. They were working in the shadows, and deployed by the police department as another tool to roam the streets looking for guns.”
This profile for the unit which essentially hid them from public view is what contributed to allowing its members to go “rogue.” This lack of accountability is a current and direct issue that is contributing to societal distrust of Police Forces in general. Police Departments must hold themselves to a higher standard in which the nature of their authority and power is not easily corrupted or permitted to act with self-adjudicating methods. Police naturally carry a weight of authority, and while it is obvious that not all, or even a vast majority of officers are corrupt, it is the ones that abuse their power that create a bad name for all officers of the peace everywhere.
Jon Bernthal is set to star in upcoming projects, ‘Snow Ponies,’ and ‘American Gigolo.’
Director: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Cast: McKinley Belcher III, David Corenswet, Dagmara Dominczyk, Don Harvey, Gabrielle Carteris, Tray Chaney, Ian Duff, Delaney Williams, Jon Bernthal, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Hector, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Rob Brown, Larry Mitchell, Domenick Lombardozzi, Treat Williams, Jermaine Crawford
Producers: Kary Antholis, Mara Goodman, Reinaldo Marcus Green, Nina K. Noble, George Pelecanos, Reena Rexrode, David Simon, William F. Zorzi, Karen L. Thorson, Ed Burns, Heather Levenstone, John Mabry
Cinematographer: Yaron Orbach
By Thomas Jacobs
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Thomas Jacobs is an avid writer, Cinema aficionado, and filmmaker. He graduated with Dean’s Honors from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a major in Film and Digital Media. His passion is directly tied to the appreciation and creation of film and television, and this fact is reflected in his intent to be a writer for the acclaimed entertainment journal, The Hollywood Insider. His beliefs mirror the core goals and mission statement of The Hollywood Insider by sharing an admiration for quality entertainment as well as bolstering a sense of positivity and equality among all humans. Thomas believes that Cinema is an advantageous promoter of civil and social empowerment, and he shares a mutual societal view with The Hollywood Insider, that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.