There was a big drug bust in Baltimore last week.
That’s not normally big news considering that on any given day, law enforcement agencies across the country are steadily busting illegal drug operations, only for new ones to crop up and replace those that were disbanded. However, this bust received national attention thanks in part to a celebrity connection.
Out of the 63 suspects charged with federal and state drug conspiracy counts during last week’s drug bust, among them was Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, best known for portraying a character of the same nickname on the wildly popular HBO series, The Wire. Felicia, or Snoop, was arrested on heroin-related and aiding and abetting charges during a police operation called Operation Usual Suspects, which targeted repeat offenders, who, authorities allege, might be responsible for the recent violence emanating from their base in East Baltimore.
This is not Pearson’s first run in with the law. Prior to becoming a reoccurring character on the three seasons of the critically acclaimed television series, Pearson was fresh off a six-year stretch in the federal penitentiary for fatally shooting a 14-year-old girl. Pearson herself was only 14 at the time of the shooting. Pearson was also arrested and charged with drug possession after the series ended; but those charges were eventually dropped.
This latest arrest has sparked criticism from folks who wonder how could someone, who appeared to be getting a second chance in life, regress back into previous, self-destructive behaviors. Well first, it goes without saying that Pearson has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Pearson claims that she is being targeted by Baltimore city law enforcement—not because of her short-lived fame—but because she is a native of Baltimore. Upon her arrest, the arresting officer said that they were lucky to catch Pearson because “she just got back from Michigan, or Minnesota, where she was doing something else. If we came a few days earlier, we would have missed her.”
But Pearson’s guilt or innocence is besides the point because there is a greater irony to this story, which is that playing a murdering, drug-dealing thug on television is okay just as long as doesn’t cross the line into reality.
Even David Simon, co-creator of The Wire, noted the irony in a statement, which he released shortly after Pearson’s arrest. He said that whatever good fortune came from her role in The Wire seems, in retrospect, limited to that project as “there are, in fact, relatively few stories told about the other America.”
Pearson was born to two incarcerated drug addicts and raised in an East Baltimore foster home. Shortly after the death of her foster father, Pearson dropped out of high school and began hustling drugs in the streets before being convicted of second-degree murder. After her release from prison, she worked as a car bumper fabricator, but was fired after only two weeks when her employer learned she had a prison record.
Her big break came when she was literally hired off the streets as a recurring character in The Wire. In fact, it was her own rough upbringing that served as the inspiration for her character. With no prior acting experience, just raw honesty, Pearson captivated viewers with her gritty portrayal of a roughneck girl that committed many ruthless murders on behalf of her street gang.
Critics praised The Wire for shining a light on the social, political, and economic life of the black underclass – a part of society that remains largely ignored or mischaracterized by the general public. Though the show allowed us to become cultural voyeurs of a forgotten America, somehow, we never really internalized that this was more than a television show, but rather a commentary on who we really are as a country.
Despite Pearson’s success on The Wire, she has failed to capitalize off it. One of her biggest obstacles was being typecast as the androgynous thug, ready to wreak havoc, deal drugs and murder, if needed. It’s a role that she appears to be duplicating in the movie Criminal Empire for Dummies, which is set for release sometime this year. In other words, we exploit people like Pearson for our entertainment purposes, not realizing that when the cameras cut, and the lights go out, there is no escaping the burden of being typecast in certain roles by our society.
Charing Ball is the author of the blog People, Places & Things.